Done deal fears on health

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Fears are emerging that the future operating structure of Queenstown’s Lakes District Hospital is already a done deal. 

Mountain Scene can reveal that Queenstown Medical Centre leaders have held two meetings with LDH staff in the past fortnight – at the invitation of Otago-Southland District Health Board boss Brian Rousseau. 

A senior health source says QMC chief Dr Richard Macharg and GP partner Dr Hans Raetz reassured hospital nurses that the private practice would honour their national pay award for two years. 

News of QMC takeover talks alarms Wakatipu Health Trust frontperson Maria Cole, given the DHB has pledged to take the pulse of the public before actioning its plan. 

Cole, whose Trust spearheaded last Saturday’s major public health hui, says she’s worried at Rousseau giving QMC a head start. 

“We’re concerned QMC appears to have the inside running.”

“WHT isn’t taking any position on who the [new hospital operator] should be,” Cole stresses, “however we’re concerned undertakings might be made informally before there’s a tender process.” 

The DHB plans to transfer LDH to a “governance body” – possibly Cole’s trust – which would then sub-lease the running of the hospital to an “operator”. 

LDH’s emergency department would be part-privatised – patients not requiring hospitalisation will pay GP fees.
QMC’s Macharg and Raetz are on holiday – a message to Raetz in Australia went unanswered – but Rousseau was available. 

Yes, QMC has met LDH staff twice, Rousseau confirms – “Because I’ve encouraged all providers to start talking to each other”. 

Have other providers had similar hospital meetings? “No, but I’ve had a chat to Wakatipu Medical Centre and encouraged them to talk with the other GPs and [LDH] staff about the future.” 

Cole demands an independent LDH “governance board” be set up quickly so that board – not Rousseau’s DHB – can appoint the hospital operator. 

She’s pushing the DHB not to make “undertakings or commitments” beforehand. Rousseau says he’ll consider Cole’s plea. Cole fears the DHB’s final act before abandoning Queens-town will be to unilaterally appoint the hospital operator – “and then give it to the board”. 

At least two other potential operators exist, she says, and the hospital board could always run the show itself – and set up its own GP clinic at LDH. 

She urges that submissions to the DHB stress that a local hospital board must decide who’ll operate LDH. 

Asked if any commitments had been made to any potential provider, DHB chairman Errol Millar says “absolutely none”. 

“There’s no point in trying to put a concept document together for consultation unless there is a degree of interest. Various doctors of the Wakatipu have been approached to say, does the concept appeal?”

Hans on at hospital: Queenstown Medical Centre partner Raetz and his historic email controversy

If Queenstown Medical Centre ends up running Lakes District Hospital, QMC partner Dr Hans Raetz (right) can chuckle. 

Back in 2004, Raetz was virtually tarred and feathered over a provocative email of his leaked to then-Southland District Health Board chair Dennis Cairns – who publicly vented his fury. 

The Southland Times story revealed Raetz suggested fellow GPs embark on what was dubbed a “dirty tricks” campaign to undermine confidence in LDH for their own gain. 

Raetz: “We are then also well positioned to (1) influence the business of our own joint venture via referral (and make a nice little profit); (2) enter into assistant contracts with the surgeons at very attractive market rates; (3) push further with Southern Cross and other health insurers the issue of minor surgery done by GPs under private contracts.” And: “If we cause SDHB enough headaches … we might get [SDHB] internally to decide that [LDH] is just not worth the hassle.” 

QMC partner Dr Richard Macharg hosed the controversy down by saying the long email expressed only Raetz’s sentiment and was rejected by all other QMC doctors. 

According to Wakatipu Primary Health Organisation figures, QMC remains by far the district’s dominant health provider – with 12,924 enrolled patients against Wakatipu Medical Centre’s 3527. 

QMC, with 13 working doctor-shareholders and 43 other staff, runs medical centres in central Queenstown, Remarkables Park and Arrowtown. All doctor-partners have more or less equal shares in the business. The ebullient Raetz holds his in a company called Quack Ltd.