Hospital hive-off begins


The Ministry of Health has taken its first step to remove Queenstown’s hospital from Southern District Health board control.

An Australasian consultancy firm has won the tender to advise how Frankton’s Lakes District Hospital can be cut loose from the Southern DHB and run by a local trust.

Sapere Research Group will “gather information and conduct discussions with key stakeholders during May and June”, the MoH says, and report by mid-July.

The public won’t be consulted - just “key local stakeholders”, says the MoH National Health Board’s John Hazeldine - although the final report will be publicly available, he says.

As previously revealed by Mountain Scene, the tender’s mission statement advertised by the MoH sought “a solution that will support a study of feasibility of self-governance for Lakes District Hospital”.

Bring it on, says Queenstown health activist Maria Cole, cheerleader for the hospital being run by a trust bulk-funded by Southern DHB grants.

“This is a step in the right direction at last,” Cole says.

“If much smaller communities such as Alexandra, Oamaru, Gore and Balclutha can make [hospital trusts] work, then surely Queenstown also has the wherewithal to control its own health destiny.”

Hazeldine says Sapere “will look at various options for governance” and assess “organisational, financial and clinical sustainability”.

Cole’s nevertheless critical outside consultants are doing the feasibility study.

“They’ll know little about the practicalities of everyday life here,” Cole says, “and our unique challenges created by the impact of two million tourists annually on our rapidly-growing community.”

Despite Sapere appearing “well credentialed”, Cole’s “horrified” there’ll be no public input.

“It’s not just a scientific backroom analysis of dry numbers - it involves people and their lives.”

Sapere’s website says “our experts have held senior positions at the MoH, Health Funding Authority, Pharmac and district health boards”.

Among Sapere’s track gallops are “reconfiguring rural health care services and working on the ground with small regional trusts”.

Sapere managing director David Moore refused all comment.

Hiving off Lakes District Hospital represents a complete about-turn by the MoH and its National Health Board, which runs district health boards.

In 2011 a NHB “panel of experts” scheduled a host of improvements at LDH.

The NHB told Mountain Scene: “We’ll closely monitor progress to ensure services in the Wakatipu are improved in line with the panel’s recommendations.”

Few improvements occurred.

With the Southern DHB said to be in “financial freefall” with a $42 million deficit, running Queenstown’s hospital may not be plain sailing for a local trust either.

Southern DHB has told at least one of its bulk-funded trust hospitals - Dunstan Hospital in Clyde - to prepare for a funding cut.