Short-changed on health – it’s official

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Southern District Health Board has finally admitted what the Wakatipu has suspected for several years – local public health service is under-funded.

SDHB boss Brian Rousseau has made the startling revelation in an email to the recently-formed Wakatipu Health Governance Reference Group.

In an email sighted by Mountain Scene, Rousseau admitted that the huge amount of international visitors aren’t specifically included in the population-based funding the area receives.

“The Ministry of Health position is that these foreign visitors are in fact funded through an unspecified contribution under population-based funding, but not on an individual basis…” Rousseau tells health group chairman Graeme Todd in the email on Tuesday.

Todd replies: “Do I take it that the funding for these matters is simply lumped in as part of population-based funding notwithstanding the high numbers of international visitors and outdoor, high-injury, high-risk recreation in this area?”

Rousseau responds: “Yes that is correct Graeme. What should the share be and on what basis? If we can answer that question, then we can lobby the Ministry of Health for greater transparency in the population-based funding component.”

Queenstown receives about a million overseas visitors a year – but that huge number won’t be fully-reflected in the area’s population-based funding model.

In 2009 Mountain Scene began its campaign with lobby group the Wakatipu Health Trust (WHT) by revealing that the Wakatipu’s 19,000 residents received $181 per head for hospital services – less than half the average yearly funding of other Otago/Southland satellite hospitals.

But with this week’s announcement that a local health trust may be taking over the reins of Lakes District Hospital, the under-funding problem may not get fixed because SDHB’s funding model is likely to remain unchanged.

WHT member Maria Cole says the fact foreign visitors weren’t included in population-based funding “was one of the inequities that were highlighted in the independent needs assessment that the trust commissioned in 2009/10, and the DHB chose to dismiss that”.

She welcomes Rousseau’s apparent change of heart and says including foreign visitor numbers in population-based funding for the Wakatipu could have “a dramatic impact”.

“Out of the pot that is available to our local residents, it is diluted by the fact there isn’t that funding for foreign visitors who are accessing our facilities,” Cole says.