Government clear on improved services: Ryall

The Government has made it clear it considers improved health services for the people of Queenstown are needed and the Southern District Health Board should start providing them, Health Minister Tony Ryall says.

The board had been talking about improved services for "it must be almost 20 years, and it is time the board got on with it", he told Parliament yesterday.

Mr Ryall said meeting growing demand for health services in the Queenstown area would "require significant financial resources and the smart co-operation of the public and private services".

Responding to a series of questions from Labour Health spokesman Grant Robertson yesterday, Mr Ryall said the Government was not interested in selling public hospitals, but that did not prevent existing buildings being sold if a hospital moved to a better facility.

He was advised the district health board was looking at several options, including a co-location on the existing Lakes District Hospital site or a new site in Queenstown.

As the board worked through the options "I am sure there will continue to be more publicly provided hospital services in Queenstown in the future".

Mr Robertson also asked what guarantee Mr Ryall could give to Queenstown residents their health services would be affordable, "when the Queenstown Medical Centre is the driving force behind the privately run medical centre that is planned to replace the hospital".

That centre had some of the highest after-hours medical fees in the country, he claimed, including a $102 fee to see a baby on an after-hours visit.

Mr Ryall said that amount compared with "some $200" when Labour was in office.

"The guarantee that I would give to the people of Queenstown is that the district health board is currently consulting on a number of options, one of which is the co-location of services on the Queenstown hospital site."

He noted that such arrangements were not uncommon under Labour.

In a statement issued, later Mr Robertson called for Mr Ryall to step in and protect public health services, accusing him of quietly supporting plans to sell off and downgrade services.

Mr Robertson told the Otago Daily Times experience of public-private partnerships showed the profit motive of the private partner eventually took over.

Board chief executive Brian Rousseau, responding to Mr Robertson, said he was "very disappointed" his proposal had not been read by those "clearly misrepresenting the facts".

There was "no proposal to sell off Lakes District Hospital".

What was being proposed was the establishment of an integrated family health centre with hospital and community services co-located which would provide a better and more sustainable service than the existing one.

If the centre development occurred on a site away from the existing hospital then the existing hospital would become "surplus to requirements ... fact. The Minister of Health is aware of this".

There was no proposal as to who the provider of hospital services in any integrated family health centre would be "and I can see no reason as to why this wouldn't continue to be the DHB. How can that possibly be privatisation of hospital services?"

elspeth.mclean@odt.co.nz

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