10 Nov 2010

Dunedin, Christchurch to share neurosurgery services

9:41 pm on 10 November 2010

The South Island needs one neurosurgery service delivered from both Christchurch and Dunedin, an expert panel has concluded.

The panel released its report on Wednesday morning and its recommendations are supported by the Ministry of Health.

Neurosurgery is a complex area covering disorders of the brain and nervous system that often require urgent treatment.

The panel recommends that the existing Dunedin-based service is bolstered and expanded to become the academic centre of neurosurgery for New Zealand.

The panel was headed by Auckland paediatric surgeon Anne Koble. Other members were Australian neurosurgeon Glen McCulloch and consumer advocate David Russell.

It was appointed to resolve divisions over whether all six South Island neurosurgeons should be based in Christchurch or whether Dunedin should retain two.

The panel says neither is ideal for a service that must be delivered urgently to some patients and removing services from Dunedin would result in up to 10 extra deaths a year, making that option difficult to recommend.

It believes the South Island needs eight neurosurgeons, with at least three in Dunedin.

Centralising neurosurgery in Christchurch would be more difficult and more expensive, costing $3 million more in the first year, than having two South Island centres, it says.

Two independent reports had recommended all neurosurgical services for the South Island be organised from Christchurch to improve services and provide long-term stability.

That led to mass protests in Invercargill and in Dunedin earlier this year, with concern some patients could be harmed by delays in treatment and for the effect on Dunedin Hospital, the University of Otago and its medical school.

Decision 'right one for Dunedin'

Southern District Health Board member Richard Thomson says the decision to retain neurosurgery services in Dunedin is the right one.

Mr Thomson says he was always confident in the panel. He says it was clear to him that if a competent group of people examined the issues, they would realise the service could not be removed from Dunedin.