The recently proposed $300 million private hospital in Wānaka is excellent news for the district, particularly for the people of the Wānaka-Upper Clutha.

However, that good news is landing mainly with those who can afford health insurance, or have enough savings to cover sudden large expenses.

So while it’s a welcome addition, it highlights the problem: Many don’t have that luxury.

More people will presumably get timely healthcare, but the lack of equitable access for the wider community concerns me greatly.

Central government needs to deliver a roadmap to meet the healthcare needs of everyone in our communities.

It’s disappointing Queenstown-Lakes and Central Otago are still waiting for access to adequate public local healthcare.

With facilities several hours’ drive away it’s not something we can afford to wait any longer for — we’re simply growing too fast.

Queenstown-Lakes has been the fastest-growing area in Aotearoa New Zealand since at least 1996, and our district’s population grew by an astounding 8% in the last year alone.

For perspective, the country’s fastest-growing city is Hamilton which grew by only 3.4%.

Despite our current and rapidly increasing need for health services, the government’s primary health agency, Te Whatu Ora, has yet to put options on the table that show the short- and long-term planning and execution needed.

Again, I’m concerned one of the country’s largest government departments does not appear to be using robust information to inform its decisions.

I question why our district’s needs don’t feature as a priority?

Te Whatu Ora continues to use outdated population forecasts for our district.

The estimates the agency uses predict high-scenario population growth of only 1.7% p.a. between 2023 and 2048.

By contrast, QLDCs’ projections, done by independent specialists with local input, estimate a high-scenario growth of 3.18% p.a. over that same period.

I would add our projections have again and again proven to be far more accurate.

We’ve asked Te Whatu Ora to use our more accurate forecasts to inform decision making.

However, despite numerous other government departments having adopted our figures as more accurate, it isn’t something the health agency has so far seemed willing to do.

It is not news that appropriate investment in healthcare can’t happen without robust evidence, but the use of dangerously conservative estimates could be measured in lives if it means we are forced to wait extra years for much-needed public health facilities.

I applaud the essential services Te Whatu Ora does deliver for our communities and all of the outstanding frontline staff who help our locals and visitors every day.

However, I don’t currently have peace of mind Te Whatu Ora understands how acute the healthcare needs of our district and wider region are.

Getting better health services across the district is of vital importance to our community and is a priority for me as mayor.

To further our case, I will continue to meet regularly with community leaders and local MPs to jointly progress this.

We should not be in a position of reacting to private development proposals — no matter how commendable they are — and hoping they meet our needs.

Rather, we need Te Whatu Ora to work with us on a very clear roadmap for how the immediate and long-term healthcare needs of the region will be met.

A collaborative effort is needed to ensure appropriate clinical health service delivery and equitable access for not just our communities, but also our neighbouring district Central Otago.

Concerningly, 70% of the people in NZ who live two hours or more from a base hospital live in inland Otago.

And that’s only counting residents.

Equal access to healthcare for everyone is a fundamental right.

The urgency and escalation of the situation is clear — our region cannot be put on the backburner any longer.

Glyn Lewers is Queenstown’s mayor

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