Hospital could be returned to HNZ

Oamaru Hospital. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Oamaru Hospital. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The Waitaki District Council will soon decide if it will negotiate returning Oamaru Hospital to the government.

Despite being a public facility, Oamaru’s hospital is privately owned by the council. In recent years the hospital has faced clinical and financial instability, a burden which the council has called unfair to ratepayers.

Waitaki District Health Services Ltd (WDHSL), which operates the hospital, has asked the council to explore having Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora (HNZ) provide healthcare to the district directly through the hospital, which councillors will decide upon on Tuesday.

WDHSL joint interim chief executive Hugh Kettlewell said details about what the deal could look like were still unknown.

This included if it meant HNZ would take ownership of buildings.

"That’s going to depend ultimately on what council and what HNZ want."

Last year the hospital’s emergency department closed three times due to a lack of doctors.

Handing operations over to HNZ would "definitely, absolutely" help stop those situations from happening again in the future.

He believed it would be "madness" not to consider the option.

"To my mind it makes sense."

Council chief executive officer Alex Parmley said without the council Oamaru would have been without a hospital for the last 25 years.

Ratepayers were essential keeping a hospital in Oamaru, but it was unfair for them to pay for their healthcare in both rates and general taxation.

The council’s priorities were ensuring the future of the hospital and its services were secure and that hospital staff were looked after during any potential transition, he said.

The council could not comment further on what that transition could look like until a decision was made at Tuesday’s meeting.

HNZ Te Whatu Ora South Island local commissioning group manager Aroha Metcalf said the agency was working closely with WDSHL to ensure ongoing sustainable health services for the local community.

The government used to run a hospital in Oamaru, but in the 1990s proposed shutting it down.

The council at the time negotiated with the health authority at the time to retain the facility.

The result was that a new council-owned hospital be built.

Last year Mayor Gary Kircher met with then health minister Ayesha Verrall, along with Deputy Mayor Hana Halalele and then WDHSL chief executive Keith Marshall to discuss the situation.

At the time Mr Kircher said the hospital was always meant to be considered public and the government originally promised to support it, which it had failed to do in recent years.