Alarm bells at the Beehive

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Lobby group Wakatipu Health Trust is pleased the Ministry of Health has put the mockers on controversial plans for Lakes District Hospital. 

“The ministry has rightfully raised alarm bells about the model proposed,” WHT’s Maria Cole says. 

In March, Southern District Health Board released a proposal to hive off the hospital to a trust and part-privatise it – with GPs screening emergency-department patients. Patients not hospitalised would pay GP fees of $50-plus, a first at a public hospital. Despite community outrage led by WHT, the health ministry stayed silent – till now. 

Patients must have the right to ED care regardless of ability to pay, the ministry writes to tell DHB boss Brian Rousseau. 

“[EDs] shouldn’t deny care,” the ministry writes. 

Health officials also question the ethics of private-practice GPs deciding whether ED patients will be treated free. 

“We’d like to discuss how the potential conflict for [GPs], between their business interests and the interests of their patients, will be managed.” 

Cole says the ministry has reacted wisely to Queenstown becoming a guinea pig. 

Yet Wellington is telling Rousseau nothing that her group and Queenstowners have not already told him, she says.
“The sentiment has been expressed loud and clear at community health forums and in submissions to the DHB. 

“Why should Queenstowners who pay the same hard-earned tax dollars as the rest of the country be denied services freely available elsewhere?” 

Rousseau’s model is “flawed” and the ministry realises “the serious consequences that could ensue”, Cole says. 

The plan could possibly be altered “to overcome or allay” community and ministry concerns, she says – doctors employed by the hospital might do ED screening, separated from a possible GP clinic there. 

“That’s a model we’d be prepared to explore,” Cole says, so long as the hospital is “community-controlled”.