6 Apr 2023

Dunedin Hospital rebuild: Will it live up to expectations?

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 6 April 2023

Will the long-awaited rebuild of Dunedin Hospital live up to expectations, as health authorities scramble to find cost-savings?

Dunedin Hospital Buildings in Dunedin

The old Dunedin Hospital is no longer fit-for-purpose. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Dunedin locals are mobilising to ensure they get the "brand-spanking new hospital" they were promised back in 2018.

The $1.5 billion project has been beset by delays and budget blowouts, with health authorities now trying to find cost-savings.

That means beds, operating theatres and labs have been cut from the design.

"People here could be told 'it's only a couple of beds, we'll put them back in in the future, don't worry about it'," Otago Daily Times associate editor of news Mike Houlahan tells The Detail.

"What they're deeply concerned about is, is this the thin end of the wedge?

"They worry that this is not going to be the hospital that they hope and dreamed that their children, their grandchildren or their great-grandchildren would be treated in in the future."

Both the Otago Daily Times and Dunedin City Council have started campaigns to stop the cuts.

"We've seen a constant whittling away of the size and the amount of services that will be in there," Houlahan says.

"We are pretty much at the point where we're defending the turf that we've got. If anything more goes, that will cause enormous problems."

John Chambers is an emergency department doctor at Dunedin Hospital, who retires this week. He also served two terms on the Southern district health board.

When he arrived in Dunedin from Scotland in the 1990s, he was impressed by the hospital.

"It had almost every specialty that you could desire - neurosurgery, cardiac surgery - quite unique for the size of the city." 

But he says it's under pressure at the moment.

"Our emergency department is what you call code red, which is pretty full to bursting."

He says there are hardly beds in the wards to move patients on from the emergency department. 

"This is the sort of thing which happens and ends up with the terrible situation of people having their elective surgery cancelled on the day."

He says the DHB's vision was for a "state-of-the-art hospital and to clearly hold on to the services that have been in Dunedin for decades". 

But he thinks the local voice has gone with the creation of Te Whatu Ora.

"During these months while Te Whatu Ora's been settling in, I think a lot of things have been ticking over by default. The organisation isn't really ticking along very well at the moment."

He says the local voice has been filled by the mayor and councillors, and believes this could end up happening in other parts of the country if health cuts are proposed.

"There's going to be battles to fight in each city to try and get the best we can for the local population in the new system.''

Hear more about why locals are worried about cost-saving measures in the full podcast episode.

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