8 Apr 2024

New Auckland surgical building cannot open due to lack of staff

8:31 am on 8 April 2024
The new Tōtara Haumaru building at North Shore Hospital.

The new Tōtara Haumaru building at North Shore Hospital. Photo: Rowan Quinn / RNZ

A brand new surgical building the size of a provincial hospital is sitting empty on the grounds of North Shore Hospital, its opening delayed and no new date set.

There are lights on and hospital beds in place in the four storey, 150-bed Tōtara Haumaru building, but it could be months before there are patients.

It did not have the staff it needed, and the amount of money allocated to run it for the next financial year had not been decided.

The $300m facility, with eight operating theatres, was always intended to be opened in stages but the first stage - the ground and first floor - was initially supposed to open last December, then this month

Now, Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ head of hospital and specialist services Fionnagh Dougan would only say "mid-year" for stage one.

"We don't have the total number of staff required, along with the work, to open the facility. So it's a blend about staffing and work."

There was not even a rough date for when the entire facility would be operational.

"We don't have a date for it to be fully up and running because that is a long-term strategy requiring us to be funded for additional work so that we can make the best use of the full capacity."

Funding to run the building for the next financial year (24/25) was still being decided

"That budget process is in place at the moment," Dougan said.

The new Tōtara Haumaru building at North Shore Hospital.

The new Tōtara Haumaru building at North Shore Hospital. Photo: Rowan Quinn / RNZ

RNZ understood doctors at the hospital were frustrated by the delay in getting the building into action as surgical waitlists grew.

One said they were looking over at the brand new facility every day with no idea when they would get to use it. They worried staffing it would be a problem, with big shortages in many areas of the health sector, particularly anaesthetic technicians.

General Surgeons' Association president Vanessa Blair said recruiting for an entire surgical facility would be a big undertaking - including cleaners, anaesthetists, surgeons and more.

"You have your theatre staff, these are people who sterilise instruments, then there's nurses, there's anaesthetic techs... surgery is a team endeavour."

As well, cover was needed to make sure patients were cared for overnight, she said.

Dougan said recruiting enough staff was one factor affecting timing of when the building would become fully operational. Some would come from within the organisation, while work had begun recruiting others.

In terms of the stage one delay, Te Whatu Ora had been reluctant to commit to scheduling surgery in the new building - and staffing it - before knowing for sure construction was finished, she said.

If it did that too early, valuable resources could have been taken away from surgery being done elsewhere in the region.

Dougan said Tōtara Haumaru would be a "fantastic facility" when it was up and running. It would help cut waiting lists, but also prevent the need for public hospitals to have to hold weekend catch-up clinics and the expensive outsourcing of surgery to private hospitals.

It would be used for patients from across Auckland and Northland, not just in the Waitematā district, which covered the north and the west of the city.

There would be four procedure rooms for colonoscopies and gastroscopies as well as two general medical wards for non surgical care.

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