Better planning needed for Wakari

PHOTO: Gregor Richardson
PHOTO: Gregor Richardson
Fuzziness surrounding the fate of Wakari Hospital speaks to the paucity of proper planning around hospital buildings throughout the country.

The major political parties can play the blame game about whose fault it is, but they are both responsible for allowing the situation to get out of hand. The relentless pressures on district health boards to meet impossible budgets which have resulted in cost-cutting on maintenance, and a system which treated funding timely building replacements in an ad hoc way are issues which have been around for decades.

It has been known for years that many parts of the Wakari Hospital complex have been below par, something reinforced by significant reports in the last few years.

These included a 2019 report from the Sapere Research Group into the state of the mental health, addiction and intellectual disability facilities at the hospital which found nearly all were dated and not fit for purpose, posing safety risks to patients and staff, and hindering appropriate quality care of patients.

Then, last year the national stocktake of hospital buildings around the country, which included 24 mental health units, found Wakari was one of four in the worst ‘‘very poor’’ category. (The hope is the stocktake will lead to a better national long-term investment strategy in hospital buildings.)

Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming has indicated his opposition to patching up the Wakari tower block as a long-term solution, costing tens of millions of dollars, although he has conceded some millions will need to be spent in the short term.

The stocktake report made it clear significant investment will be needed to upgrade mechanical infrastructure in the next five years. The electrical infrastructure has been described as mostly beyond the end of its life. Further, most of the switchgear supplying each block is housed in the boiler house basement which is inaccessible due to the presence of asbestos.

Perhaps all will be clearer when the detailed business case for the new Dunedin Hospital, expected to go before Cabinet next month, is released and we also receive more information about what might be included in the hoped-for ‘‘health precinct’’ on land around the new hospital.

Presumably too, the independent review of the southern mental health and addiction system which is under way will help inform decision-making about future Wakari Hospital services.

We cannot understand why there has not been more transparency, cohesion, and urgency about planning the future of both hospital sites — as it stands, it seems as if those involved are attempting to complete a jigsaw without having all the pieces. We can understand how frustrating this uncertainty must be for those dedicated to providing the best service they can amid inadequate settings.


The national Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination campaign to reach those 15-30-year-olds who are not fully inoculated against measles has been a fizzer so far — another example of piecemeal planning.

We know it has required sleuthing to establish who might need the extra vaccination, and Covid-19 may have affected the availability of staff, but even so, the campaign seems to have lacked national direction and oomph.

So far, we gather, the year-long campaign which began last July has reached only about 3% of the estimated 230,000 to 300,000 (this figure seems somewhat fluid) target population.

Health Minister Andrew Little is putting a brave face on it, not admitting the Government will fail to meet its target.

He refers to the campaign not being helped by the fact that the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out is occurring at the same time and that is taking a lot of attention and energy.

Collaboration of those involved with both campaigns would have seemed sensible. The MMR experience with this hard-to-reach group could provide valuable insights for those preparing the Covid-19 programme in which those over 16 will qualify for vaccination.


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