Open Minds

It is often said we live in remote and self-centred times; that members of the baby-boomer generation and their technologically sophisticated, individualistic offspring have little notion of - or need for - the concept of "community"; that self-interest is a predominant motivating force in today's fast-moving, get-ahead society.

So it is hugely gratifying to see the lie given to such ideas by the generosity of spirit, the intellectual purpose and the genuine altruism with which the people of Dunedin, wider Otago and Southland have united behind the cause of keeping neurosurgery in the South.

We thank all those people for their time, their passion, and their commitment.

We thank them for turning out at short notice to the Dunedin Town Hall meeting on Thursday evening - a meeting which demonstrated to the country the united resolve of local bodies throughout Otago and Southland to maintaining neurosurgery in Dunedin.

We thank them for convening in their thousands - people of all ages and backgrounds, from all walks of life - for the march last Friday from the Octagon to the hospital, and at demonstrations elsewhere through the South; for sending an unequivocal message that, we believe, cannot be ignored in Wellington.

We thank them for writing to us, for sharing their compelling, sometimes tragic, often uplifting personal stories, and readily acknowledge how much courage that can take.

We thank them for signing in their thousands the petition to send to Health Minister Tony Ryall, for writing directly to him and to others, including the Director-general of Health and the Neurosurgical Expert Panel convened to make recommendations on the way forward.

It is fair to say the South has spoken with one voice.

We thank other media organisations for joining the Otago Daily Times in helping to convey the message.

It has been a privilege to have been central in communicating it, and an encouraging, if humbling, reminder of the positive role a newspaper has to play in the public affairs of its region.

The work is not over yet, nor the battle won.

We urge people to continue to write to the minister, to sign the petition - which is open until this Friday and available at all offices of the Otago Daily Times and its sister Allied Press publications, as well as offices of The Southland Times - and to make submissions to the South Island Neurosurgical Expert Panel.

In Saturday's ODT, an open letter from Anne Kolbe, chairwoman of that panel, made some encouraging points: the panel was "completely open-minded" as to what a new service would look like; that it wanted to "listen to people's ideas about how to make it work"; that it is "really important that people from throughout the South Island have equity of access and equity of outcome".

Three hundred thousand of those people live south of the Waitaki River and this newspaper intends to continue to press home the categorical message that equity of access and equity of outcome means having neurosurgeons based in Dunedin.

Equally, it will carry on reminding those central to the decision-making process that maintaining the University of Otago Medical School's reputation as one of the leading medical universities in the southern hemisphere is critically entwined with the neurosurgery question.

It will reinforce, where necessary, all those other arguments - health-related, educational, economic - that were forceful and true when it formally launched its "It's a No-Brainer" campaign last month, and remain equally so now.

Provision and delivery of healthcare is one of the foremost challenges of the age.

It must be met fairly and squarely, and considered from all angles, in the hope that new ways of approaching old problems can be envisaged.

All the experts and health authorities, including the Southern District Health Board, agree South Island neurosurgery should be run as one service - but not necessarily from one site.

The precise permutations as to how this is best devised is part of the expert panel's brief.

The ODT, too, is open-minded.

We do not believe that because one model - one way of managing matters - has prevailed in the past it must be permanently enshrined in all its particulars.

There are undeniable benefits to imagining the future afresh.

To the panel we say: by all means start with a clean slate; present your most effective and innovative roadmap to the future - but with the proviso that a continued neurosurgery presence based permanently in the South is non-negotiable.


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