New Westport health facility closes for fourth time

Te Rau Kawakawa health centre has only been open nine months. Photo: Supplied
Te Rau Kawakawa health centre has only been open nine months. Photo: Supplied
The fourth closure forced by a lack of doctor cover since the new Westport health facility opened nine months ago has seen slammed by Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine as "totally unacceptable" in a hard-hitting letter to Health Minister Shane Reti.

The closures left the Buller public at risk and eroded public confidence, Mr Cleine said.In response, Dr Reti said there had been some recruitment success and efforts were ongoing.

Writing after the most recent weekend closure of Te Rau Kawakawa health centre a fortnight ago, Mr Cleine said the risk to residents was "urgent and unacceptable".

The facility had been closed at weekends and overnight four times in the nine months since it opened in May 2023, due to either a nurse or doctor shortage.

The latest closure meant inpatients were being discharged or transferred to Te Nikau Hospital in Greymouth.

It also meant there was no acute stabilisation unit available to provide any kind of hospital-based A and E or urgent care in Westport.

"I understand and appreciate the efforts of local medical and management staff to avoid this critical gap in doctor coverage, they are dealing with a doctor resource that is spread too thin to maintain critical services. This must also put extreme pressure on nursing staff and St John to provide services without the back-up of a doctor or access to acute stabilisation facilities," Mr Cleine said.

Te Rau Kawakawa was an "outstanding" facility but he noted the Ministry of Health's inability to ensure adequate staffing.

"This has exposed the community to additional risk to health outcomes and erodes public confidence in the health services available in Buller. Please advise how you can ensure urgent resource is made available to provide doctor coverage at Buller for this weekend, Mr Cleine said.

"Looking further ahead, we need reassurance that there is adequate and equitable health care maintained for the residents of Buller district. The status quo is totally unacceptable."

Dr Reti responded that the health force was under pressure, and this was not unique to the West Coast.

It had been exacerbated in Westport by unexpected leave there, and in Greymouth.

He said work was under way to create a more robust service for Westport, with the successful recruitment of rural generalists and a nurse practitioner.

"There has been success but there is still more work to do."