North Canterbury after-hours healthcare still in limbo

An artist’s impression of the proposed Rangiora Medical Centre, which will provide after-hours...
An artist’s impression of the proposed Rangiora Medical Centre, which will provide after-hours urgent care. Image: Supplied by South Link Health Group
A lack of after-hours healthcare in North Canterbury is no closer to being resolved.

A promised after-hours facility at the Rangiora Health Hub could be delayed again, while no interim plan for after-hours healthcare in the region has been forthcoming.

South Link Health Group entered into an agreement with the Ministry of Health in 2021 to build the after-hours facility and received a resource consent last year from the Waimakariri District Council.

But the group has yet to apply for a building consent.

Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey, who is now Associate Health Minister, said he was frustrated to hear there was another delay and called on Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand to provide "clearer communication".

‘‘This is yet another example of this project dragging further out, and all the while the growing community of Waimakariri is left more confused, and without fit-for-purpose health services.

‘‘Let’s be clear, residents in Waimakariri have been promised a facility and have patiently waited for long enough now.’’

With the new Rangiora Medical Centre not expected to open until 2025, Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand advised a public meeting in Rangiora in April it had asked local GPs to come up with an interim plan.

But seven months on, Te Whatu Ora Waitaha Canterbury group manager, office of the regional wayfinder, Greg Hamilton, said "conversations are continuing’’.

‘‘We are continuing to work with the key parties involved in the new practice and Hato Hone St John, exploring options for after-hours provision locally that could be operational before the new facility opens.’’

Waimakariri residents accessing after-hours medical services in Christchurch had increased by 17 per cent since 2019, Te Whatu Ora advised the April meeting, which had been called by Mr Doocey.

The Ministry of Health entered into an agreement with South Link Health Group in 2021 following a petition calling for after-hours healthcare being presented to the former Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) two years earlier.

South Link Health Group, which is a network of 26 medical practices, is responsible for funding and constructing the new facility.

It will include full radiology services (ultrasound, CT and MRI scans), GP services, a pharmacy, and urgent after-hours healthcare.

A spokesperson for South Link Health Group said a building consent was ready to be presented and it was seeking tenders by the end of January.

Work on the site is expected to begin in March, with the medical centre on track to open in the first half of 2025.

The spokesperson said staff recruitment continued to be ‘‘a major challenge’’.

■ Limited after-hours healthcare is available at Durham Health, Rangiora, and the Amberley Medical Centre over the weekend, and at local pharmacies. Residents can ring 111 in an emergency, contact their GP to speak to a triage nurse, call Healthline 0800 611116 for free advice from a nurse, or arrange online video consultations with a doctor (for a charge). The after-hours triage service is delivered by Whakarongarou and operates in North Canterbury, with access to a St John paramedic if a face-to-face assessment is required. The service has been expanded to include Oxford, Amberley and aged care facilities. A new rural after-hours service, Ka Ora Telecare, offers phone or video consultations with a doctor. Go to kaora.co.nz/app/services/sub-services/3. The Pegasus 24 Hour Surgery in Christchurch is also available.

By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

■ Public interest journalism funded through New Zealand on Air.