At a meeting last week called by Waitaki District Health Services, the Waitaki District Council-controlled organisation that owns and operates the hospital, the issue of the hospital’s reliance on locums was addressed by chief executive Ruth Kibble.
The meeting was held after the company came under fire for how it had communicated its review of its kitchen services to the public, and to answer questions about the hospital and health services in Waitaki.
Mrs Kibble said the company reported an operational deficit of $810,918 in the 2017-18 financial year and about $600,000 in the previous year. An increased deficit was forecast for 2018-19.
A major contributor to the 2017-18 deficit was a "very high dependence on locums", which she said needed to change.
"Going forward, we need to employ those doctors so that we can have work that is sustainable and safe for people receiving these services and for those staff.
"Previously, in the weekends, doctors have worked for 63 hours on end. I have said that is not acceptable ... We are committed to changing that and employing our own doctors so that we can have good-quality clinical services."
At the meeting Robyn Couper, of Oamaru, asked about staff departures. Mrs Kibble said she was unable to comment because it "predates her time", but sought the view of the hospital’s newly appointed clinical director, Dr Pragati Gautama, on the issue of staffing.
Dr Gautama said that under her watch, doctors would not work 60-plus hour shifts, as had been the case in the past.
"My commitment to my doctors will be that they will not be doing 63 hours in a row. I don’t think as a profession we are actually looking after our senior doctors.
"I think we need to be very clear that if it was my daughter, my granddaughter, my sister, my brother coming to see a doctor, they deserve to see somebody that is well rested and is a professional.
"We do need to look after our doctors so they can look after our community here."