Mayors take aim at HNZ over healthcare concerns

Queenstown mayor Glyn Lewers. Photo: supplied
Queenstown mayor Glyn Lewers. Photo: supplied

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan. Photo: supplied
Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan. Photo: supplied


Parts of Otago are "simply growing too fast" to wait any longer for adequate healthcare services, two mayors from the region told the government this week.

In a letter made public yesterday, Queenstown Lakes Mayor Glyn Lewers and Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan jointly expressed their disappointment both districts were still waiting for "adequate public local healthcare" and called on Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora to start working with them on finding solutions this year.

"There has been a long-standing lack of investment in local provision of publicly funded health services, infrastructure, and workforce to meet our districts’ health needs," said Mr Cadogan in a statement coinciding with the letter’s release.

"Despite our councils regularly advocating to government for better public healthcare, we’re yet to see sufficient progress on expanding services, or more flexibility on engaging with communities and the private sector to support the development of local solutions."

Mr Lewers said while he applauded the "essential services and outstanding frontline staff" HNZ delivered to the region with limited funds and capacity, "our communities can and should expect better".

"Concerningly, 70% of the people in New Zealand who live two hours or more from a base hospital live in inland Otago.

"And that’s only counting residents.

"With facilities several hours drive away it’s not something we can afford to wait any longer for — we’re simply growing too fast."

The mayors penned the letter in response to Te Whatu Ora’s draft Te Waipounamu Health and Wellbeing Plan, a three-year strategy for healthcare in the South Island that is planned to come into effect from July.

While the letter avoided commenting on the contents of the plan itself, the mayors pointed to Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago’s status as the first and third fastest growing regions in New Zealand to underline the urgency of addressing their healthcare needs.

"The districts’ communities need a clear commitment to local planning to improve health services in the districts commencing in the 2024-25 year," the letter read.

"CODC and QLDC reiterate that they would welcome the opportunity to work with Te Whatu Ora to support this."

When contacted yesterday, Health Minister Shane Reti said he expected Te Whatu Ora to "be working closely with all local communities in developing regional health plans to ensure they are informed by local needs".

"I hope to visit the region in the near future however in the meantime, I’m encouraged by a range of health initiatives already completed or under way, including a third General Practice having opened in Wānaka in March, a new maternity unit for Wānaka, and Queenstown Medical Centre having been supported over the Christmas 2023 surge period with sustainability funding."

While HNZ acknowledged a request for comment in response to the mayors’ letter, they did not respond before deadline.