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However, a brighter future is on the horizon with up to four doctors expected to be employed in the coming months.
The sum comes from the 2019 end-of-year financial report, presented at a Waitaki District Council additional meeting yesterday.
It revealed a rise of $1.2 million was spent on locums last year, compared with $371,245 in 2018.
The service boasted a group income of $21 million, up from $18.7 million the previous year.
Cr Jim Hopkins said the council was repeatedly told by health officials it needed to lower its locum figures, but little appeared to have been done about it.
WDHS chief executive Phil Jamieson, who started in August, said it was very close to finalising contracts for "strong clinical doctors".
"We have offers out on the table for permanent doctors in New Zealand or returning to New Zealand — the timing has been complicated by the global environment."
Those doctors would reside in the Waitaki district and there was the future possibility of a "joint swing doctor" resource with other health centres.
"... With Dunstan, where we can form a value proposition - they’re not a competition, and it can improve our quality of care without having to tap into locums."
Board chairman Mark Rogers said a reduction of about $2.7 million in costs was expected, as employees replaced locums.
Mayor Gary Kircher said the "ship was turning" with Mr Jamieson’s appointment, and clinical director Stuart Mologne, who started in August.
"It’s very good having you on board and the amount of positivity around your appointment and lots of positive comments about the new clinical director too.
"People are seeing some really good attitudes within the hospital and its services ... and you’ve played a major part of that."