5 May 2017

Dunedin down to just one neurosurgeon

7:36 pm on 5 May 2017

Dunedin health chiefs must do more to bolster the city's fragile neurosurgery service, the Labour Party says.


Photo: 123rf

In 2010, a protest by 10,000 residents against the planned relocation of the service from Dunedin to Christchurch prompted the government to ensure neurosurgery would be available in both cities, with close cooperation between them.

However, the latest departure of Dirk De Ridder has left just one neurosurgeon, Ahmed Taha, on the job at the Dunedin centre.

Southern District Health Board chief medical officer Nigel Miller said they had some advance warning and support from across the country.

"It's a little bit tricky but obviously we could see this coming," he said.

Visiting neurosurgeons were arriving from Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton, and the DHB said it had a roster of visiting neurosurgeons to support Mr Taha, and it would provide cover for the rest of the year.

Dr Miller also said the DHB was looking to share two academic neurosurgeons with Otago University, a plan the university's medical school dean Peter Crampton confirmed.

Labour health spokesperson David Clark, who is also the MP for Dunedin North, said more should be done by the DHB and government to ensure the service was strong.

He said he believed there had been differences between the two South Island neurosurgery centres.

"The fact that the Christchurch end of things are not particularly cooperative is the story that's been told through the [Southern] DHB.

"That it's been a struggle to attract suitable neurosurgeons, who are reluctant to go into a position where they are not guaranteed a certain number of patients to keep their skills up.

"There also needs to be a willingness on the part of the Canterbury surgeons to make rosters work and to share workloads."

Dr Miller said he had seen no signs of those problems, however.

"I think there's been a good working relationship. I've had quite a number of conversations with the Canterbury people and found them very supportive."

The university's Prof Crampton said Brexit, Donald Trump, European elections and uncertainty generally in the world made it a good time to be searching for neurosurgeons to employ.

"In fact some of that's working to the advantage of New Zealand in terms of recruiting professional people, who often are very very difficult to recruit."

He said the latest difficulty did not mean the rescue plan agreed seven years ago was deficient or unworkable.

"The model certainly can be made to work well and it was working well there while we had all hands on deck. Two of those people have moved on from their clinical roles, which is unfortunate."

Canterbury DHB was unable to provide comment.

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