Ardern pledges quick hospital construction

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern speaks to the people who could not fit into the Hunter Centre...
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern speaks to the people who could not fit into the Hunter Centre yesterday. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
A Labour government would work with iwi and the University of Otago ahead of building Dunedin's new hospital in its first term, Jacinda Ardern told an enthusiastic audience in Dunedin yesterday.

Ms Ardern confirmed the hospital would stay in the central city, but ruled out a privatised build, saying public funding would ensure faster completion.

National's plan, announced a week ago, promises a new hospital by 2027.

Several hundred people turned up to see the Labour leader yesterday. About 200 of them could not fit into the University of Otago Hunter Centre, and listened outside on loudspeakers.

On her way in, Ms Ardern gave those outside an impromptu address. Apologising for the lack of space, she promised to visit Dunedin again before the election on September 23.

Dunedin could not wait 10 years for a new hospital, she told an equally enthusiastic crowd inside.

``You need a new hospital, and you need it now.

``Something that I love about southerners is that you just get on with it.

``You don't raise things too much, you don't moan. But that doesn't mean that your health needs should be taken for granted.

``When I look at the long list of problems with your hospital, the fact that you're cancelling operations when it rains because it leaks ...''

Ms Ardern said it helped that Labour's Dunedin North MP, David Clark, was the party's health minister, a minor gaffe the audience lapped up. She quipped she was ``four weeks early'' in bestowing his job title.

Ms Ardern said a public-private partnership would make for a slower rebuild, as the Government would have less control under that scenario.

``Actually, what we need is speed.''

A hospital ``vision group'' comprising the Otago Regional Council, Dunedin City Council, Ngai Tahu and the Southern District Health Board would be established.

Ms Ardern visited a hospital ward after the announcement, accompanied by health board commissioner Kathy Grant and chief executive Chris Fleming.

She spoke to patients about Labour's hospital build plan and also discussed the hospital food provided by Compass.

A large group of health staff and medical students had gathered in the hospital foyer. After her ward visit, Ms Ardern spent 30 minutes chatting to them and taking selfies.

A hospital doctor, who declined to be named, told the Otago Daily Times she and many of her colleagues were pleased with Labour's announcement.

The hospital was ``falling down'' and there was increased risk of infection because of the state of the building, she said.

Speaking afterwards, Dr Clark confirmed the party's working budget for the new hospital was now about $1.4billion, equalling National's new indicative budget announced last weekend.

Labour would not commit to a completion date, but is promising a quicker build than National's seven- to 10-year timeframe.



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