Health board spurns upgrade to Queenstown hospital

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Southern District Health Board is angling to off-load Queenstown’s hospital to a local community trust. 

SDHB had previously committed to a substantial upgrade of Lakes District Hospital but says its priority is now a $100 million rebuild of Dunedin Hospital. 

Health board planning and funding boss Sandra Boardman: “The reason we can’t afford to put a new facility in at Lakes is, yes, Dunedin Hospital needs to be replaced. 

“We can’t afford [the LDH upgrade] – put simply.” 

Boardman announced the news exclusively to Mountain Scene on Monday morning, immediately after briefing LDH staff. 

While Boardman says all options will be considered, the only choice discussed with Mountain Scene was hiving off the running of LDH to a local community trust, funded by an annual operating grant from SDHB. 

The Ministry of Health is funding a feasibility study into the idea of a trust – and the public will be consulted. 

Boardman says LDH is the only one of six Otago-Southland regional public hospitals directly run by SDHB – the other five hospitals are operated by community trusts. 

LDH requires “considerable structural change” and “an awful lot of money just to bring the building up to code”, Boardman says. 

Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden also fronted for SDHB’s announcement – from 2011, the mayor has chaired the

“Wakatipu health reference group” to ginger up the DHB for improved local services. 

“The health reference group and the DHB have come to the conclusion there isn’t the money to put into capital development of LDH at this point,” Van Uden says resignedly. 

The mayor says about three weeks ago she got outgoing health minister Tony Ryall’s commitment to fund “a feasibility study [on] the community running the hospital to see if that’s another option”. 

Ryall was quoted by National Business Review last week championing “social sector trials” to achieve “better results from the money we’re putting into communities”. 

Queenstown’s council isn’t involved in the hospital trust idea, Van Uden stresses, though the feasibility study will be done with SDHB’s support. 

Van Uden: “I always thought [LDH’s upgrade] was a reasonably big ask [when] you’ve got a DHB that’s constantly in deficit and funding is limited.” 

A feasibility consultant hasn’t yet been appointed, she says, so she has no idea of timing.
Van Uden pledges public consultation: “We need to make sure everybody understands the pros and cons of the [hospital trust idea] and the options.” 

She acknowledges “one of the risks” would be SDHB reducing funding after the trust is established.
However, Boardman personally favours five-year funding plans. 

Van Uden’s ‘reference group’ will be replaced by another community committee supervising the feasibility study and terms of reference for a hospital trust. 

People interested in joining the new group – which may become the inaugural hospital trust board – should contact her, the mayor says. 

Boardman couldn’t say – even approximately – how much capital expenditure an LDH upgrade might chew up. 

However she said the SDHB’s annual Wakatipu operating costs run to $8m.