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Questions: Queenstown's mayor Jim Boult (right) questions Southern District Health Board deputy commissioner Richard Thomson yesterday

Work on an extension and revamp of Queenstown’s “substandard” Lakes District Hospital will start next year.

While details remain sparse, Southern District Health Board deputy commissioner Richard Thomson confirms the price-tag is “definitely north of $5million”.

Speaking at a Grey Power meeting yesterday, he says it will submit an application to the Queenstown Lakes District Council in the new year and building work is likely to begin in the second quarter of 2018.

The upgrade will include installing a CT scanner, more than doubling the capacity of the existing emergency department, adding a diagnostic service, providing an ultrasound facility and refurbishing the maternity and outpatients units.

While Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult welcomes the spending, he says it falls short of what is needed in an area of such huge growth.

He attended the start of the meeting in Frankton, but had to leave because of his own “medical emergency” – a dentist appointment to have a tooth removed.

Speaking last night, Boult says he is “disappointed” the deputy commissioner ruled out a new hospital facility.

“This is not a permanent fix. This is just buying us more time.

“I appreciate the step in the right direction but we still need a long-term solution.

“Tell me how you can have what will be the second-largest population centre in the district without a decent hospital.”

About 50 local people turned up to hear Thomson’s views on the future of Wakatipu health services.

In September 2014, the SDHB said it could not afford an upgrade because of the planned rebuild of Dunedin Hospital.

This was overturned in August last year when new plans, including the new CT scanner, were announced.

Some who came to hear Thomson were critical of delays to the changes.

One woman questioned SDHB management, another suggested maternity services were not up to scratch and one man raised bed occupancy.

Thomson admits things are not rosy.

He describes existing facilities as “unacceptable” and “substandard” but stressed the upgrade will address those issues.

He points to the different factors driving demand in the area, population growth and visitor numbers.

He referred to drunken behaviour and skifield accidents as further pressure points.

Thomson says a new hospital is not the answer.

“The problem is how you provide the services in that hospital.

“You need to make a distinction between the facilities and the services you provide.”

Speaking after the meeting, he says the revamp was adequate to meet Queenstown’s needs.

He also says the decision is based on a full review of the facility.

In addition to the upgrade, the health board will look at improving services locally, rather than shifting people to Invercargill or Dunedin for treatment.

“We have to look at what the data is telling us and we have to build for that data. We are trying to be really clear that this will be a progressive process.

“We are building on what that tells us will happen over the next five-seven years, not the next 50 years.

“We are not doing anything that will stop us continuing to adapt that process.”

Thomson says it is a “balancing act”.

“It may be two steps forward and one step back and we wonder how many rocks we have yet to turn over and what ugliness you may find under them. But my question is, `are we making progress?’ and, yes, I think we are.”

More details on the upgrade are expected next week.