24 May 2024

Otago councils seek Health New Zealand commitment to improve public health services

5:51 pm on 24 May 2024
Dunedin Hospital

Alexandra residents who need emergency care or to see a specialist have to drive two and a half hours to Dunedin Hospital, Tim Cadogan says. Photo: ODT

Central Otago councils say they want a clear commitment from Health New Zealand to improve local public health services.

The Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district mayors have written a joint letter to Te Whatu Ora in response to its draft South Island Health and Wellbeing Plan, asking that a long-standing lack of investment in the region's public health be urgently addressed.

A Queenstown Lakes 2023 quality of life survey found almost 40 percent of respondents had to travel outside the district for medical services, while 70 percent of people who live more than two hours away from a base hospital, live in inland Otago.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said the plan, a three-year strategy for healthcare in the South Island that is planned to come into effect from July, does not meet the needs of the district's residents.

"I am standing in Alexandra, probably a two and a half hour drive to Dunedin Hospital and that's not just for urgent care... but it's when you need to go and see your specialist, two and a half hours drive, finding parking and sometimes staying the night, it is crippling on our people both in terms of time and in terms of cost.

Cadogan said he had no doubt that inland Otago residents were suffering from poorer health outcomes, as a result.

"We have people here struggling to find the emergency care they need or to get the treatment they need, when they need it and where they need it."

He said that ranged from accessing maternity care, right through to aged care.

"I've known people who have missed appointments because they haven't been able to get there and if you are looking at something that is only going to get worse then missing those appointments can be the difference between a good outcome and a bad outcome."

It was partially because the district's demand for healthcare was not recognised at the top level, Cadogan said.

"Most of our need is primarily focused on geography and population, we are a long way from anywhere, we have got a lot of people but we've got a lot more coming."

Currently, the two districts combined resident-only population is 79,000, which is similar in size to Palmerston North, but high visitor numbers in the tourism hot spot substantially increases the need.

Central Otago is the third fastest growing district nationally, while Queenstown Lakes saw a population increase of 8 percent in the last year alone. During the same period, New Zealand's fastest growing city, Hamilton, grew by 3.4 percent.

Cadogan said a plan was needed to urgently address inland Otago's inadequate access to public health care.

"Despite our councils regularly advocating to government for better public health care, we're yet to see sufficient progress on expanding services, or more flexibility on engaging with communities and the private sector to support the development of local solutions.

"It's a massive problem that a co-ordinated approach can start to address and fix."

Queenstown District Mayor Glyn Lewers said it was disappointing that Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago residents were still waiting for access to adequate public local healthcare.

"I applaud the essential services and outstanding frontline staff Te Whatu Ora currently delivers for inland Otago communities, and that the agency is working with limited funds and capacity, but our communities can and should expect better.

"With facilities several hours drive away it's not something we can afford to wait any longer for - we're simply growing too fast."

The mayors say they will continue to meet regularly with community leaders and local MPs to jointly progress inland Otago's growing health needs.

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