New hospital not on cards

Richard Thomson
Richard Thomson
Queenstown may be on track to become the region’s second-largest city, but that does not mean it will eventually get a flash new hospital.

That was the message from Southern District Health Board (SDHB) leaders at a function to announce a $6.5 million upgrade of Lakes District Hospital yesterday.

SDHB deputy commissioner Richard Thomson said the upgrade would meet the district’s needs for the next five to seven years.

Looking further ahead, a new hospital was "not inevitable".

Although the resort was growing rapidly, a population’s demographics determined its health needs, not sheer numbers.

"In the next 15 to 20 years, Queenstown will be the second largest city in the [SDHB] region, but population doesn’t drive health need."

For example, the hospital’s emergency department continued to get busier, exceeding more than 10,000 visits this year.

But the occupancy rate of its 12 beds had stayed relatively low, at about 60%, for the past five or six years.

"Demographics determine the health services required. We need to think about this not as a building, but as a set of services."

The upgrade was long overdue, and the DHB’s inaction had "left people in limbo for so many years", Mr Thomson said.

"A failure to provide a solution by successive boards has produced a huge amount of community angst, and annoyance for staff."

Asked to respond to comments by Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult last week that the upgrade was only "buying us more time" and a new hospital was needed, SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said a trend towards delivering services in the community, and rapid technological change,  meant big new buildings were not always the answer.

It was likely the existing hospital site would evolve through upgrades and additions rather than be replaced by a new facility.

A consent for the upgrade will be lodged with the council early in the new year, with building work expected to start in the second quarter of next year.

It will include the installation of a CT scanner and ultrasound services, a more than doubling in size of the emergency department, refurbishment of the maternity ward and other wards, and a telemedicine suite. Facilities for outpatients, administration and the district nursing team will also be upgraded.

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