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Otago and Southland district health board members were yesterday shocked to learn a "virtual iron curtain" still existed between health services in Queenstown and Central Otago.
One "terrible" example was Queenstown patients being forced to to travel to Invercargill for chemotherapy, when they could "go down the road" to Dunstan Hospital, Central Otago Health Services Ltd chairman Russell McGeorge told the community and public health advisory committee in Dunedin.
"We would like to try and see a breaking down of the barriers between Otago and Southland in our area."
Committee member Fiona McArthur said she was "somewhat stunned by that statement" and as a board member she had assumed barriers between Otago and Southland no longer existed.
"I am very disappointed to hear that the virtual iron curtain is still there. I feel gravely let down."
Travel from Queenstown to Invercargill was a minimum two and a-quarter-hour journey, while Dunstan was a comfortable one and a-quarter-hours away, Ms McArthur said.
She was a "little bit disappointed" to hear about chemotherapy services, as the Southern Blood and Cancer Service was one of the "flagship" regional services of the two boards.
Committee chairman Errol Millar said the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago areas would stand to gain the most immediate benefits if the Otago and Southland boards were to merge. Public consultation about a merger begins next month.
"We have made amazing progress in Dunedin and Invercargill, but we haven't cracked the Kawarau Gorge yet," Mr Millar said.
Mr McGeorge said the hospital ran a free shuttle bus from Wanaka to Dunstan for patients, such as those receiving chemotherapy.
The service worked well and if a similar service was set up from Queenstown, it would "start to melt" the distance from Queenstown to Dunstan, he said.