18 May 2022

Hutt Hospital patients, nurses say local health service vital

6:21 pm on 18 May 2022

Patients and staff could start moving out of Hutt Hospital's quake-prone main block within weeks, according to Minister of Health Andrew Little.

Hutt Hospital

Hutt Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

His prognosis is much earlier than the DHB's most optimistic timeframe of "within a year".

However, it is not yet known where the thousands of people affected will all go.

That is a frightening prospect for people like Wainuiomata mother Krystal Nikara.

It was scary enough to have her 10-year-old daughter diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March without the added stress of knowing the children's ward is in a quake-prone building, she said.

However, given the imminent threat to her daughter's life of a diabetic coma - or the more distant risk of them being caught in a quake-prone building, she said she did not really have a choice.

"I have to go there, what else am I going to do? It's a split minute or two, it could change in the blink of an eye - her levels could be fine, and then the next minute they could not be."

Nikara, who has 11 children - seven of whom still live at home - said an even scarier prospect was not knowing where they would go if the children's ward was closed.

Over the past three months, her daughter has had four week-long stays in hospital, and been in and out of the emergency department about 10 times.

"I need them there, for the sake of my baby."

The seismic rating of the Heretaunga block- which includes maternity, the children's ward, general surgery, orthopaedics and the regional burns unit - is just 15 per of the new building standard.

Duty nurse manager Nathan Clark, who is also a Nurses Organisation delegate, said it would mean huge disruption for staff if services shifted to Wellington or Kenepuru.

"Ask anybody who's had to go for an appointment in town how much of a nightmare it is trying to get in and out of Newtown and find parking.

"You suddenly put another 240 beds in there, it would compound the problem even more - let alone staff trying to get in there for work."

Midwives fear maternity services could collapse.

College of Midwives head Alison Eddy said the Hutt was already grappling with huge staff shortages.

"Expecting people to travel to access services in Wellington is not going to be feasible as an interim strategy and certainly Wellington Hospital won't be able to absorb that number of extra births anyway.

"So they really do need to look at how they're going to maintain a locally-based service."

The DHB said it was considering all options to relocate services from the Heretaunga block, which has 210 beds and accounts for 25 percent of hospital capacity across the Wellington region.

Chief medical officer John Tait has suggested private hospitals and rest homes could help.

Aged Care Association head Simon Wallace said that was "hugely ironic".

"The DHB's actively poaching our nurses, paying them $20,000 to $30,000 more. Now they have a facility that's earthquake prone and they want us to take their patients. But we don't have the registered nurses to be able to do that. It's just crazy."

Just in the past week, the region has lost 50 aged care beds permanently due to the lack of nurses.

Wallace said if the DHB provided the nurses - and an adequate level of funding to support the extra patients in hospital level care - rest homes would be happy to help.

Meanwhile, private surgical hospitals were standing by to pick up more elective procedures.

Evolution Healthcare chief executive Sue Channon said its Wakefield and Bowen hospitals currently had 11 operating theatres and 76 beds between them.

"If needed, we can support with additional capacity to make sure patients get access to the services they need when they need it.

"But this would be an extension of the partnership that already exists, so we are already working with the local DHBs and providing services."

The DHB said it was "working to a number of time-frames" but services could be out of the building within a year.

However, Minister of Health Andrew Little said it was likely to be weeks, rather than months.

He reassured Hutt residents there was no danger they were going to lose their hospital.

"We are committed to a hospital and hospital services in the Hutt Valley. This is going to be disruptive though, there will involve inconveniences to people in the Hutt Valley. We want to make sure that's for as short a time as possible."

Little was meeting tonight with Hutt mayor Campbell Barry and local MPs Ginny Andersen and National MP Chris Bishop to discuss the hospital's future.

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