Red-letter day: From left, hospital founder Andrew Blair, patient Kelly Pearce, orthopaedic surgeon Dr Chris Phoon and hospital GM Judith Kissell


Monday marked an historic milestone for Queenstown healthcare.

The first two operations were conducted at the resort’s new Southern Cross Central Lakes Hospital, meaning many locals will no longer have to travel out of town for surgeries.

Both operations were also publicly funded by the Southern District Health Board.

For Kelly Pearce, who divides her time between Queenstown and a Southland farm, having her fourth and final wrist surgery performed locally was a godsend.

‘‘The staff were all great, and I received excellent care.

‘‘For me, having local surgery means less travel time, better continuity of care, less stress and improved mental health while recovering, and less time away from work.’’

A ski instructor, Pearce says recovery from her first surgery, following a ski accident in 2020, was impacted by travel issues.

‘‘Transport problems and, in hindsight, a misunderstanding with the public hospital meant I missed a crucial post-surgery appointment in Invercargill.

‘‘The flow-on effect of that led to an 18-month, four-surgery including a hip bone graft into my wrist.

‘‘I believe my problems would have been discovered much sooner had I had local surgery and follow-up with my surgeon.’’

Pearce says she was also bumped multiple times for surgery as the public hospital system struggled — ‘‘that can now be avoided at the new hospital’’.

Her orthopaedic surgeon, Arrowtown-based Dr Chris Phoon, says Monday was ‘‘a day I’ve been anticipating for 10 years, since the first public-private partnerships’’.

The surgical hospital had opened after, by his reckoning, four false starts.

Ironically, he says sometimes he’d drive from Arrowtown to Invercargill to see Pearce, who’d driven from Queenstown to see him.

Phoon says he’ll now be handling local patients with acute injuries every Monday ‘‘so they don’t have to travel’’.

‘‘More trauma being done locally will mean the public system will have more capacity and fewer delays and cancellations.’’

Meanwhile, hospital founder Andrew Blair says ‘‘it was great to actually have patients in the hospital [this week] and being treated here’’.

‘‘I’m so very pleased all the effort so many people put into it is finally bearing benefits for the local community.’’