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The Southern District Health Board is considering a new system of recruiting senior doctors to provide adequate cover for regional hospitals.
The idea was in its early stages and had some hurdles to overcome, such as different organisations having different employment contracts, SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said in a report to the board.
However, there was a shortage of rural hospital medical specialists working in the five main facilities with acute inpatient beds — Lakes District Hospital, Dunstan Hospital, Gore Health, Clutha Health and Oamaru Hospital — and that was expensive to manage, Mr Fleming said.
"Two of the hospitals have reasonable senior medical officer cover, but the other hospitals have a heavy reliance on locums.
"This is expensive, and also can affect the quality of the service provided, as there is often limited continuity."
More than half the senior medical officers at Oamaru Hospital were locums, and one from Lakes District Hospital was providing some senior cover until a new clinical director started at Oamaru, Mr Fleming said.
"This involved internal changes at Oamaru Hospital, and also strengthening the links to key departments in Dunedin Hospital."
A more collaborative approach to hiring would benefit the regional network and patients, but if doctors were hired on the DHB collective contract, that was the most generous of the employment agreements and would require more funding, Mr Fleming said.
His report also highlighted regional issues with radiology services, with some private providers having reduced services.
"This has put increasing pressure on some rural hospitals, Queenstown and Dunstan in particular," Mr Fleming said.
"Health services in Gore and Balclutha have also been impacted."
Clinical leaders had called for a more strategic view of the provision of radiology services so that they would be sustainable in future, Mr Fleming said.