Health services deal may lead to greater efficiencies: Mayor

Oamaru Hospital is the subject of a possible memorandum of understanding between the Waitaki...
Oamaru Hospital is the subject of a possible memorandum of understanding between the Waitaki District Council and Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora. PHOTO: WYATT RYDER
Both the government and the Waitaki District Council are working to make sure a deal is reached on Oamaru Hospital before its funding contract finishes at the end of June.

The agreement may lead to the district’s health services working together in a more cohesive and efficient way, Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher said.

It follows a public-excluded district council meeting on the topic last week.

In March, the council decided to enter negotiations to return Oamaru Hospital to Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora (HNZ). At present it is run by the council-owned Waitaki District Health Services Ltd (WDHSL), but HNZ’s contract with it expires at the end of June.

Mr Kircher said both parties were "100% committed to make sure it happens by the due time".

The June deadline put the council "in a bind", but it did the same for HNZ.

"We want to make sure there isn’t a gap at the end of June where there’s no service."

There was no real risk of missing the deadline, but it did limit how much engagement the council could do before the transition.

"We’re committed to engaging with the community as much as we can, but some things are out of our control."

He hoped negotiations would be over by the end of the month.

The meeting was held to give councillors an update on the negotiations, as well as some legal advice, he said.

A Waitaki District Council spokesman said the council remained committed to ensuring the preservation of the hospital and its services, as well as working with HNZ on the future of health services in the district.

Mr Kircher said the council was also seeking a commitment and ongoing partnership with HNZ to work collaboratively with it and the community to develop a healthcare system that better met the needs of the community.

That could result in a memorandum of understanding that gave some credence to how things could be done with local organisations in the future.

It might mean more opportunities for organisations such as the Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group to work more closely with the hospital, he said.

Given the financial struggles the government and district were facing, it was important to make sure HNZ was using what Waitaki had available in an efficient way.

"We know that health services are not meeting the needs of all our community so, in the longer term, we are committed to ensuring a local health system that delivers for everyone in Waitaki and ensures better health outcomes."

There were other things to work out, including what would happen to the $2 million the council had issued to WDHSL, Mr Kircher said.

WDHSL joint interim chief executive Hugh Kettlewell said he was feeling "relaxed" and "bullish" about the negotiations.

"Like all these negotiations, they come down to the wire.

"I can see a way through to a resolution."

Oamaru got to be a "guinea pig" for how the government could design a regional healthcare service, which was actually a great benefit for the district,he said.

What that would mean, he was not quite sure, but HNZ could rearrange how the pieces fitted together.

"They can deliberately make changes to make it move more smoothly."