Hospital funding cut a bitter pill
The Central Otago community came out in force to a public meeting in Alexandra about a proposed 5 per cent Southland District Health Board funding cut to Dunstan Hospital.
More than 700 people packed the Alexandra Community Theatre last Wednesday night in an effort to retain the services the community owned hospital provides.
Central Otago Health Services Limited has run the hospital for the past 15 years.
Chairman Russell McGeorge said the demand for the hospital’s services had grown by about 20 per cent and funding needed to be increased to reflect this.
Dunstan Hospital general manager Karyn Penno said if the hospital did not get funding towards its growth there would be another 5 per cent deficit on top of the 5 per cent SDHB funding cuts meaning a loss of about $1 million from its budget for next year.
‘‘It didn’t occur to us that we wouldn’t get funding for the growth we have been experiencing over the past few years.’’
Penno said there were regularly up to 28 patients at the hospital and cuts to funding could reduce inpatient numbers to 16 beds.
‘‘Where are those people going to go?’’
Ambulance costs to transport patients to other hospitals would cost about $350,000 annually, she said.
Funding cuts could reduce nursing numbers and the quality care of patients.
‘‘By the time we have each nurse dealing with eight patients it’s not safe anymore.’’
COHSL clinical director Dr Rob Visser said Dunstan Hospital’s average costs were $890 (GST’s excluded) a day. Including ambulance fees, transferring patients to Dunedin Hospital would cost about $1373 daily and $3869 to treat seriously ill patients in a high dependency unit.
On average there were six admissions to Dunstan each day; the average length of stay being just over three days. There would only be room for four patients daily and two would need to be transported elsewhere, he said.
‘‘These patients would be blocking beds for those needing elective surgery in Invercargill or Dunedin.’’
Because Dunstan had no emergency department there were already significant cost savings made to the SDHB as the community pays GPs for emergency care, he said.
Dunstan senior clinician Matt Born said it would be those needing acute care that would end up having to travel by ambulance or helicopter to other hospitals hence endangering their lives.
It would be difficult finding ambulance services to cater for the transportation of more patients to Dunedin as currently ‘‘it was not infrequent that there isn’t an ambulance available’’.
The facilities Dunstan provided for families to be together needed to be preserved, Born said.
Central Otago Health Inc chair Ainsley Webb said the community owned, funded and protected Dunstan Hospital.
‘‘Few communities in New Zealand have raised so much to provide for the equipment, furniture and fittings of their local hospital.’’
In 2013 the community fundraised more than $2m for a CT scanner – ‘‘Where else does this happen on such a large scale’’.
SDHB board planning and funding director Sandra Borland said savings needed to be made across the sector.
No decisions had been made, negotiations were still continuing, she said.
‘‘We would not like to see the scenario that you have presented today. The stark reality is that as a nation we cannot afford to provide health care in the way that we do now . . . there is not enough money in the pot to do it the same way.’’
Dunstan supporter Shirley Alabaster said it was only a few years ago the community had such a meeting and ‘‘we got a new hospital’’.
The community had a voice, and could write letters of submission to their MPs, she said.
Alexandra resident Gerry Eckhoff said provincial hospitals were given priority funding over rural areas.
‘‘We are simply an itch that at times gets a little scratch.’’
Panel members at a public meeting in the Alexandra Community Theatre about proposed funding cuts to Dunstan Hospital, from left, Dunstan senior clinician Matt Born, Central Otago Health Services Ltd clinical director Dr Rob Visser, Dunstan general manager Karyn Penno, Southern District Health Board planning and funding director Sandra Borland and SDHB chief executive Carole Heatly.