Queenstown is the poor relation in hospital funding, according to an action group pushing for a health service shakeup.
The resort’s struggling 22-bed Lakes District Hospital is run on a paltry $181 per head of Wakatipu population per year by Invercargill’s Southland District Health Board.
That’s less than half the average of other Otago and Southland satellite hospitals, according to indicative figures released to Mountain Scene by the Wakatipu Health Trust.
SDHB funding for LDH in the year ended June 30, 2008 was $3.2 million – a drop in the bucket compared with the $220m of funding which SDHB got from the Ministry of Health in the same year.
Split the Wakatipu’s $3.2m among 18,000 people living in the resort – official Statistics New Zealand figures for June last year – and LDH gets $181 per person for hospital services.
Locals are being “short-changed”, health trust project manager Maria Cole says.
Her trust is lobbying for LDH to become community-owned like Clyde’s Dunstan Hospital but SDHB has roundly rejected the idea.
“We all know health budgets across the country are being squeezed – and it is now apparent that residents in Queenstown have not been receiving their fair share of the Government spend,” Cole says.
The trust’s figures – compiled from public documents and health sources – show Queenstown at the bottom of the funding heap compared with other satellite hospitals in Otago.
Yearly hospital funding for Central Otago residents works out at $411 per person, Waitaki $457 each, Clutha $285 and Gore $368 each.
But Otago-Southland DHB boss Brian Rousseau says funding for each regional hospital is decided on health needs and population demographics.
“You have to compare apples with apples.”
Nevertheless, Cole maintains that SDHB’s strategy is to have Wakatipu patients travelling to Southland Hospital in Invercargill so as to justify more funding there.
“Other regional [hospitals] still use the services of their base hospital but they have rehabilitation beds and out-patient clinics – LDH doesn’t have any of these services,” she says.
“We don’t expect to have every speciality coming to a small town but if they can be provided at Dunstan they can be provided at LDH.
“It’s no longer acceptable to say that they provide those services in Invercargill for Queenstown. [SDHB] is not providing equitable access – and that’s all we want.
“They need to be looking very closely and asking themselves hard questions – whether some of that money and resources should be repatriated to Queenstown.”
We’re being fleeced, says longtime GP
A long-serving local doctor says the Wakatipu is being “fleeced” of essential health services.
GP Val Miller of the Wakatipu Medical Centre says Southland District Health Board should provide more free services at Lakes District Hospital – instead of forcing people to pay at local medical centres or face being transferred to Invercargill.
“SDHB has always said ‘we don’t need to provide an A&E service [in Queenstown] because we provide one in Invercargill’ – which is not valid, if you ask me.”
Some families are “really starting to hurt” from the cost of medical bills, Miller says.
“If children hurt themselves and they have to go to [local medical centres] parents can be faced with bills of well upwards of $150 – just for simple A&E things. For some families, that’s the sort of thing that takes them weeks to pay off.”
Miller’s worked as a local GP in Queenstown since 1983. Over the past 10 years, she’s watched services at LDH steadily decline.
“We used to have a complete range of visiting specialists so we could refer patients [to] free clinics [at] the hospital.
“That has just been decimated over the years.
“I think Queenstown is a thorn in the DHB’s side because we’re a community that is remote, therefore we need a high level of service.
“They want us because they want our funding, but they don’t want to actually give us the service.
“We want what we’re entitled to and we need it because we have an international profile … and it is simply not being provided.”
Hospital staff run ragged
“So busy there were nurses literally running between patients.”
That was then-patient Christie Clark’s first-hand view of how stretched Frankton’s Lakes District Hospital gets.
Clark, a former Queenstown Chamber of Commerce boss, spent two nights at LDH after a white-tailed spider bit her in April last year.
“Seeing how busy it was just made me feel I should be checking myself out,” she told Mountain Scene at the time.
“If I’d been able to walk out of there and taken my IV drip home, I’d have felt much better inside because I wouldn’t have been taking up space. How ludicrous is that?”
Clark praised medical staff for their professionalism but warned good ones would leave if such pressure continued.
– Ryan Keen
His scan from hell
An ambulance ride to Invercargill for a simple health procedure turned into a nightmare for well-known Queenstown artist Peter Beadle.
Beadle’s one of many locals forced to travel to Southland Hospital for a CT scan – because Frankton’s Lakes District Hospital doesn’t have a CT scanner.
Mountain Scene understands about two people are transferred to Invercargill each day by St John ambulance – at more than $600 a transfer, that’s costing the taxpayer at least $420,000 a year.
Beadle, 75, took himself to LDH in March after becoming short of breath.
The incident occurred a few days after a scheduled, unrelated health procedure, following a bad fall a week earlier where he injured his back and neck.
At LDH, he was told he’d need to be sent to Southland Hospital after a preliminary X-ray showed lung clots.
“They put me into an ambulance the next morning … we took off on a most horrific journey in an ambulance that felt more like a horse and dray.
“There was also another girl in there in another bed.”
He eventually received his CT scan and ended up spending a further “10-12 hours” on a stretcher bed in the Invercargill A&E with no food and little contact from medical staff – and in pain from his back.
All told, Beadle spent three nights in Southland Hospital and another night in a hotel – where his wife had stayed during their time down south.
His clots were treated and Beadle given the all-clear. He praises ambulance staff and nurses at both LDH and Invercargill.
But his uncomfortable ordeal wouldn’t have happened if LDH had a $2 million CT scanner, he says.
“It’s all unnecessary and how many other people in one given year are having to do that and at great personal cost?
“The way it progressed, it could have been treated just as well in Frankton, I’m quite sure of that.
“And put it this way, if I was going to die I’d rather die in Frankton than Invercargill.”
– Celia Williams
Official rip-off must be stopped
It makes you sick.
We knew Southland District Health Board was short-changing us – but discovering the scale of the hijack makes me bilious.
You may recall our Mountain Scene stories over the years. Old folk exiled to die in far-away resthomes. New babes with “Born In Invercargill” on their birth certificates. Ill family, friends and neighbours ambulanced off down south in droves.
All because SDHB’s board is stacked against us – mostly by Invercargillites with a deep-seated, envy-tinged dislike of Queenstown.
It’s got to stop. We pay our taxes like other Kiwis but we sure as hell aren’t getting our fair share of health bucks back.
It’s time to act – and we’ll need to act fast, I fear. Wellington’s already squeezing SDHB because of the recession so the Invercargillites may chisel us out of even more dollars if we’re not quick enough.
What can you do? Air your grievances – we’re the dispossessed, remember. If enough of us speak out, SDHB will do something. Or the politicians will make them.
- Write to Mountain Scene on firstname.lastname@example.org or post comments to www.scene.co.nz – SDHB gets our paper and so does the Beehive.
- Call SDHB chairman Paul Menzies – his office number is (03) 236-7068.
- Give local SDHB board member Fiona McArthur a polite piece of your mind on 441-1102.
- Email SDHB’s chief exec at email@example.com
- Grizzling to your MP pays too – especially as he’s Finance Minister. Call Bill English on (04) 817-6801. A fair bit of Southland’s in his electorate, mind, so let Bill know you expect him to be impartial.
Make some noise, Queenstown … it’ll be good for your health.
– Frank Marvin
‘Tell us the amount and justify it’
The big boss of the DHB running Lakes District Hospital denies the Wakatipu is being short-changed on health services.
“There’s no evidence at the moment to suggest that people in Queenstown have less access to healthcare than what other people have,” says Otago-Southland District Health Board boss Brian Rousseau.
“In fact, there’s evidence [Wakatipu residents] are a healthier community. That’s driven by a number of socio-economic factors and by people who look after themselves.”
Rousseau says funding is allocated according to need, based on demographics and population size.
“I’m not sure where [Wakatipu Health Trust is] coming from – do they expect Queenstown to have all of
the services? They need to tell us what the right amount [of funding] is and justify it.
“Queenstown people actually do get access to services. They might not be in Queenstown but they do get equitable access to services.”
Rousseau doesn’t dispute the trust’s argument that SDHB needs to ship Queenstowners off to Invercargill to justify the southern city’s funding.
“You’ve got to have a certain critical mass to have sustainable secondary services. If we didn’t in fact have critical mass in Dunedin and Invercargill, the next stop for people south of the Waitaki would be Christchurch.”
He’s expecting a long-awaited regional hospital capacity review in the next couple of weeks.
“That will tell us in terms of the health needs and the level of access what Queenstown people have.”
– Celia Williams