Shift to rural health model at hospital defended

 Oamaru Hospital clinical director Dr Pragati Gautama answers questions from the community about...
Oamaru Hospital clinical director Dr Pragati Gautama answers questions from the community about the shift to a rural health model. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN
Oamaru Hospital clinical director Dr Pragati Gautama believes Oamaru Hospital is an "excellent location" to have rural hospital medicine.

Dr Gautama, Waitaki District Health Services (WDHS) board members Dr Andrew Wilson, Mark Rogers and Helen Algar, chairman Chris Swann, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, Oamaru Hospital chief executive Ruth Kibble and Timaru Hospital chief medical officer Dr Robyn Carey all fronted to explain more about the Oamaru Hospital's shift to a rural health model and answer questions from the community at a meeting at the Oamaru Opera House on Tuesday night.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher chaired the meeting, which was attended by about 100 people.

Dr Gautama explained the rural health model as "a hospital staffed by suitably trained and experienced generalists, who take full clinical responsibility for a wide range of clinical presentations".

She understood people might see the shift as moving from specialist to generalist care.

"But in actual fact, it's one and the same - these are doctors who are highly skilled, just like your internal medicine consultant, and just like your ED consultant is," she said.

"The difference is, they can work everywhere in this one hospital."

There were 32 rural hospitals across the country and rural health doctors needed to complete training in several areas.

At present, there were about 90 doctors on the training programme, and Dr Gautama said she was speaking to several who had expressed an interest in coming to Oamaru.

Members of the community praised the speakers for a positive presentation, but concerns continued to be raised about the hospital's finances, a fear of losing specialist clinics and services and the need to increase pay and employment opportunities for Oamaru Hospital's nurses.

At the last community meeting, Oamaru Hospital chief executive Ruth Kibble told the community WDHS had posted a net operating deficit of about $810,000 in the 2017-18 financial year.

Outsourcing the kitchen service was going to save the company about $140,000 annually.

Board chairman Chris Swann said the hospital was tracking ahead of its deficit and hoped to break even by the end of the year.

"We've got some changes that we're making to the model that we're operating at the hospital in terms of taking locums out of our system and staffing with our own doctors - that's a huge expense," he said.

"We're starting to get some more technology into the hospital which is all going to make a difference."

Several members of the community asked about pay negotiations for Oamaru Hospital nurses, who are paid 4% less than other Southern DHB nurses.

As well as pay, Mrs Kibble was asked about how the Oamaru Hospital could offer more full-time employment to nurses, to attract young nurses to Oamaru.

"It's a piece of work we do need to look at, as to how we can retain them in this area, by giving people meaningful employment," Mrs Kibble said.

Mrs Kibble said they were "absolutely not" considering cutting or reducing services by shifting to a rural health model.

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