Hospital docs union pushes for regional health plan

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The union for doctors is urging National Health Board experts – deciding Queenstown’s healthcare future – to adopt a regional approach.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) is making the plea just hours before the NHB panel’s first public meeting tonight (Monday). 

“[Southern District Health Board] appears to have lost sight of the rapidly increasing health demand in the wider Wakatipu/Central Otago region,” ASMS says in a 55-page ‘Health Dialogue’ report intended as a submission to the NHB panel. 

A regional strategic plan needs to be developed, the union recommends. 

ASMS cites an earlier submission by Lakes District Hospital medical staff to SDHB: 

“Increased thought should be given to healthcare in the region as a whole, rather than the Wakatipu in isolation. 

“Queenstown would be well positioned to provide more trauma care to those from Wanaka, reducing transport to Dunedin. 

“LDH and [Clyde’s] Dunstan Hospital provide services which may be considered complementary and further consideration could be given to service sharing, such as maternity services, paediatrics or diagnostic radiology. 

“Savings can be made by keeping appropriate patients out of base and tertiary hospitals and these savings should be taken into account when budgets are considered.” 

With the combined population of the Wakatipu and Central Otago projected at 60,000-plus in 15 years, the region will have a larger catchment than five existing DHBs – South Canterbury, West Coast, Wairarapa, Tairawhiti and Whanganui. 

The combined Wakatipu/Central Otago population has to grow only 19 per cent to match Timaru Hospital’s catchment, ASMS claims. 

Recent Mountain Scene coverage of a chemotherapy scandal is also cited, where Wakatipu cancer patients were having to make 400km round trips to Invercargill instead of travelling half that distance to Dunstan Hospital. 

ASMS: “This case was a stark illustration of the health service divide that continues to exist between the Wakatipu, formerly in the Southland DHB, and Wanaka/Central Otago, formerly in the Otago DHB – despite the DHBs merging in May 2010.” 

The union report also provides compelling findings which it claims discredit SDHB claims that LDH is “financially unsustainable”. 

Between 2009-10, LDH costs increased just two per cent – and they’ve have fallen by $150,000 over the first 10 months of this financial year, ASMS says. 

ASMS also maintains LDH’s total expenditure per head of population – $395 – sits in the mid-range of costs from other hospitals such as Balclutha, Gore, Dunstan, Oamaru, Tokoroa and Taumaranui. 

If Queenstown’s 10,700 average daily visitors – who are excluded from DHB funding – were added in, LDH’s annual cost per person would fall to about $240, the lowest of all the hospitals measured. 

ASMS also sniffs at SDHB’s claim that LDH’s bed occupancy is low at 52 per cent. 

“There’s no recognition that many of LDH’s inpatient cases are transferred [to base hospitals] within a 24-hour period and are therefore not counted in bed occupancy statistics,” the report says. 

For good measure, ASMS bags departing SDHB boss Brian Rousseau for proposing an “integrated family health centre” in a public-private partnership with Queenstown Medical Centre at a new development in Remarkables Park. 

ASMS: “GPs, who would provide a 24-hour service from the site, would manage entry to the Emergency Department. 

“Patients presenting to the ED who were assessed as non-emergency cases would no longer be treated in the ED but in an adjoining GP practice and would be charged a fee.” 

ASMS quotes the submission of a LDH staffer who says SDHB’s proposal would result in “a larger QMC on a new site with a downsized hospital wing attached and no emergency department”.

• ASMS’s full report entitled ‘Health Dialogue – A Public Hospital for 2026: Queenstown’ is expected to be posted at www.asms.org.nz during Tuesday.

– See