Work on unit ‘progressing well’

It has been a long gestation for the promised birthing units for Central Otago and Upper Clutha.

Nearly four years since the units were announced amid fanfare and celebration, the Wānaka unit has been marred by delays, and information on the Clyde unit is scant.

In 2022, Te Whatu Ora Southern revealed the purchase of an Albert Town property to be renovated, to create the Wānaka unit.

It was touted to open in late 2023, but demolition did not start at the property until October last year, and building consent was issued by the Queenstown Lakes District Council on November 14.

When completed, the facility will include a birthing room, four postnatal rooms, four antenatal clinic rooms and a birthing pool.

Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora Southern (HNZ) primary care and population service manager Aoife Miller told the Otago Daily Times in January "operational requirements" at the Wānaka Primary Birthing Unit resulted in an additional consent and refit of floor plans, pushing back its opening.

However, the unit was "on track to be opened in the second half of 2024", she said.

"Work on the unit is progressing well with the reconfiguration of the building almost completed and installation of services now taking place," she said.

"The maternity teams and LMCs [lead maternity carers] in the area are looking forward to the new unit opening and being able to provide care closer to home in a fit-for-purpose environment."

The unit would be staffed by about 10 people at various times, including midwives, case-loading midwives, lactation consultants and administrators employed by HNZ, she said.

While the opening date of the Wānaka unit is not yet available, it is further ahead than the proposed Clyde Primary Birthing Unit.

The unit was thrown in to doubt in March last year when HNZ Southern executive director of corporate services Nigel Trainor informed the health select committee construction costs for the Clyde unit had come in "significantly higher" than anticipated.

Mr Trainor said the health body was looking at a plan B and "potentially doing a similar thing to what [it] did in Wānaka".

Inquiries by the ODT to HNZ throughout the year have revealed little detail about the progress of the Clyde unit. However, on Thursday HNZ Southern director of midwifery Karen Ferraccioli confirmed HNZ was still planning to build a purpose-built facility in Clyde "at this stage".

"Following the tender process, Health New Zealand is currently working through contract approval with the preferred supplier. In the meantime, the Central Otago Maternity Unit in Alexandra remains open for births and postnatal stays," she said.

In response to an Official Information Act query, Ms Ferraccioli said the region’s midwifery workforce — both employed and self-employed (LMC) — had raised concerns about the timeframe and completion for the primary maternity units and "the need to have a fit-for-purpose environment to support the child-bearing journey of pregnant people and their whānau".

"Health NZ acknowledges these concerns, and we are committed to provided appropriate and accessible services to the community."