People need say on hospital

Dunedin Hospital.
Dunedin Hospital.
Dunedin Hospital is the largest construction project this city has seen, and will alter its landscape forever.

Which is why it is regrettable that - until Monday night - there had been no opportunity for the public to debate the project's direction with those who are steering it.

Even more unfortunate was the timing of the event, which took place in the aftermath of events in Christchurch - a tragedy which overshadowed publicity for the event and meant potential attendees were otherwise engaged at vigils around the city and district.

However, those who were there gave those overseeing the rebuild a flavour of the issues and concerns the hospital project has raised in the community.

They will also, perhaps more crucially, have given early voice to some of the controversies to come so planners can hopefully address those concerns before they arise.

Parking is an already vexed issue, and little hospital planners say seems to assuage those concerned there will not be enough spaces provided.

The disruption to traffic and the eventual rearrangement of city streets are also known concerns, and occupied much of the proceedings.

No decisions have been taken yet, but notable conundrums include how the new hospital will be linked with the new bus hub, whether the State Highway will remain where it is and, if so, how many lanes it will have, and the future use of St Andrew St - now an important thoroughfare, but in the future destined to run in between the main two hospital buildings.

It will be some months before the main architectural contract is let, but what streetscape the somewhat monolithic structures on the concept drawings will ultimately present was a concern for many.

Heritage advocates were keen the Cadbury building facades be preserved in some way, but that looks very unlikely if earthquake resistance standards are to be met.

Those who wish to see the hospital surrounded by gardens and other green spaces may also be disappointed. Southern Partnership Group chairman Pete Hodgson warned the footprint of the main hospital buildings did not afford much room for trees and flowers.

Given the grim concrete exteriors of the current main hospital buildings, hopefully whoever designs their replacements can make a more welcoming architectural statement, as well as utilising nature to create a less forbidding environment.

A hospital is, after all, a place of healing - both physical and mental - and it should be calming, welcoming and accessible for the whole community, as well as fulfilling the critical clinical requirements modern medicine demands.

Where some services will fit in to the new hospital - notably maternity and mental health - remain to be decided.

Each is critical.

The region's parents deserve the best services available for their newborn children; the current mental health services are severely stretched, and are delivered in facilities ill suited to purpose.

While the Government has yet to respond to the findings of the inquiry into mental health and addiction services, if the southern region is to carry out whatever reforms are instigated, improving mental health services - especially emergency services - is essential.

While most were concerned about the look of the future hospital or what services might be offered within, the biggest concern Mr Hodgson has is whether construction firms can find enough workers to actually build the hospital by its intended 2028 completion date.

He outlined efforts to create as many jobs for Dunedin and New Zealand workers as possible, and the likelihood that we will need help from overseas.

Christchurch Hospital has struggled to find construction workers to build its new facilities, and every effort to avoid similar quandaries in Dunedin must be made.

The Southern District Health Board has promised more meetings as the hospital project proceeds and that the regions will not be forgotten as Dunedin Hospital will play a pivotal role in the whole region's health system.

While these buildings will be in Dunedin, this will be a hospital for the people of Otago and Southland.

Hospital planners need to keep talking to those people, to make sure this will be the hospital that those people want, and in which clinicians can deliver the services they need.

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