Residents urged to lobby for interim health service

Health Action Wānaka steering committee member Monique Mayze.
Health Action Wānaka steering committee member Monique Mayze.
Central Otago Health Services Limited chief executive Hayley Anderson. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Central Otago Health Services Limited chief executive Hayley Anderson. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A community-led health advocacy group is urging Upper Clutha residents to lobby Te Whatu Ora in support of an interim after-hours healthcare service for the region.

In a newsletter sent to subscribers earlier this week, Health Action Wānaka (HAW) encouraged readers to email Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand in favour of a proposal that would provide for an overnight clinical nurse specialist based in Upper Clutha as it would serve as a short-term solution "while work continues to fund and deliver a sustainable after-hours service that is comparable to other similarly sized towns in New Zealand".

Specialists operating under the service would receive remote support from a senior doctor based at Dunstan Hospital and would perform patient assessment and overnight observation, with the option to refer patients via ambulance to Dunstan Hospital if necessary.

The proposal was the outcome of two years  of work by Central Otago Health Services Ltd (COHSL), a community-owned, not-for-profit organisation that provides health services out of Dunstan Hospital.

COHSL chief executive Hayley Anderson said the organisation had been driven to work on the proposal after observing not only Upper Clutha’s significant population growth, but an increase in the number of people from the region requiring healthcare from their team.

"We noted the clinical risk to Wānaka patients when the on-call GP service reduced its hours to 11pm and have been working towards a solution to fill the gap in service from 11pm to 8am."

The proposal had changed "very little" in two years, but NZ Health reform in that time had necessitated much "consultation and negotiation" with representatives of St John, local general practice, WellSouth and Te Whatu Ora, Ms Anderson said.

While an exact location for the service had not been determined, she said there was a "solid option for the delivery of this service in the Wānaka community".

Ms Anderson said the proposal was  with the Health NZ National Funding Board for consideration, and while COHSL had hoped to have the service operational by winter, she acknowledged "the runway is short".

"Central Otago Health Services have invested long hours in bringing a safe proposal for improved health services to the Upper Clutha community to life,’’ Ms Anderson said.

"The proposal is supported by the Board of Central Otago Health Services Limited and we are hopeful that we will receive the necessary funding to progress."

Health Action Wānaka steering committee member Monique Mayze said Upper Clutha residents they had engaged with were "understandably supportive" of any proposal providing after-hours care for the community, "even if it’s only an interim solution".

She said some community members had asked whether the service would be free, and that HAW’s understanding was it would be "dependent on the level of funding allocated for the service".

Ms Mayze said Te Whatu Ora needed to appreciate that Wānaka’s status as a rural community more than three hours from a major hospital, and an hour over an alpine pass from an emergency department, left the town in a "very vulnerable" position.

"When GPs in Alexandra, Cromwell and Invercargill stopped offering after-hours care, Health New Zealand provided funding to ensure those communities received an after-hours service.

"Why is the Upper Clutha community being overlooked?"

While Te Whatu Ora acknowledged a series of questions sent to them for this story, they did not respond before  deadline.