We must adapt or lose’


Haven’t we had a great time blaming Southland District Health Board for our ills? Much as I’ve enjoyed the slugfest, it’s now time to look at ourselves.

But what do I hear every day? We need an emergency department, a surgical ward, CT scanner, caesarean sections. Surely milk and honey will rain from the skies …

Robust, sustainable hospital-based services rely on population numbers around 100,000. This puts even Invercargill at risk of losing further services to Dunedin and Christchurch.

Sure, in the United States we’d have all sorts of fancy equipment but New Zealand is simply too small for flights of fancy.

With global competition for reducing resources, and a rapidly contracting medical workforce, we’ll soon see another wave of rural hospital closures in NZ.

Only towns that can adapt, open alternative funding streams, and generally depart from the dogma of “hospital-provided services”, will retain facilities.

It’s time Queenstown had a reality check and acknowledged a few unpleasant truths:

  • There’s only limited health funding available for our region – and it’s a lot less than we’re led to believe in the media. Wellington’s push for our DHBs to finally balance their books will cause further contraction of Otago-Southland’s budget.
  • Local control of our own funding will come at a price: the Wakatipu PHO alone has spent over $1.2 million in administration in five years, struggling to implement improvements for our community against an unresponsive DHB bureaucracy. Has it really been worthwhile?
  • Comparing Queenstown with Oamaru or Dunstan is like comparing oranges with apples – we’re neither Clyde nor Oamaru. Queenstown isn’t the only place the DHBs will look to review funding and this is likely to cause the Oamaru apple to turn pretty sour 
  • And guess what – we won’t have caesareans done here. We’d need six additional specialist doctors, in addition to the paediatric team caring for the “rescued” baby 
  • Plus the other perennial – a CT scanner – is difficult to justify, given its crippling upkeep of about $500,000 annually. If it came down to funding hospital beds for my elderly patients or paying big bucks for a scanner to avoid transferring snowboarders to Invercargill, I know which way I’d vote.

Queenstown funding is for Queenstowners.

It needs to pay for better provision of outpatient clinics, public and private elective surgery locally, increased availability of ultrasound scanning and plain X-ray, improved maternity services, and additional beds for our elderly.

What it cannot and should not do is pay for a duplicate of Invercargill’s Southland Hospital with all its inherent problems.

We need to start thinking outside the hospital “box”.

The necessary changes won’t suit everybody in Queenstown but the alternative of continuing on our well-trodden path will lead us into a very dead end.

Dr Raetz is part of a consortium working on a feasibility study for a private hospital complex in the Wakatipu