Crystal ball gazing for Wakatipu health

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OPINION

A new Southern District Health Board document yields possible clues on what a ‘panel of experts’ may prescribe for Queenstown. 

The National Health Board-appointed panel unfurls its so-called “independent approach” to Wakatipu health services at an SDHB meeting today (Thursday). 

Details will remain confidential meantime but possible pointers pop up in the newly-released annual plan of SDHB – which “invited” the Wellington-appointed panel to wave its wand over the Wakatipu. 

Tellingly, Health Minister Tony Ryall also draws a clear link to the experts when writing to SDHB approving its plan: “There are a number of actions in your annual plan which will contribute to the clinical and financial sustainability of services, notably the work of the Wakatipu health services expert panel,” he writes. 

Under “rural health” – as Queenstown is categorised – the plan talks of “multidisciplinary teams and care clusters”, the latter being “general practice, pharmacies and non-governmental organisations”. 

Queenstown’s Lakes District Hospital and Clyde’s Dunstan Hospital are in for some amalgamation, the plan records: “Lakes District Hospital as currently configured is neither financially nor clinically sustainable. There’s now an opportunity to build a single optimal health service that best meets the needs of the combined Central Otago/Queenstown Lakes population…”
 
GP-run “integrated family health centres” – an idea provoking outrage when first floated here in 2010 – is plugged again. 

“Three IFHCs have received Ministry of Health funding to facilitate planning and bring in specialist property development and financial skills. 

“IFHCs will be strategically located [in Queenstown and Central Otago] to enable good access to [GP] care,” SDHB says. 

Hospitals will treat only conditions “that cannot safely and efficiently be provided in the community” and “access to most hospital services will be through primary care.” 

The Wakatipu will be waiting to see whether the expert panel endorses SDHB’s plan – which would make a mockery of the panel’s pledge of independence – or whether the experts override the health board’s 170-page document.