FROM THE FRONT PAGE
Feeney’s hope many more will make a similar career choice.
Dunstan embraced the ‘‘rural generalist’’ way of thinking many years ago and was now regarded as a centre of training excellence, with a waiting list of doctors wanting to work there, while other hospitals were keen to replicate Dunstan’s model, Feeney said.
A ‘‘whole person approach’’ to patient care was shared by nurses and allied therapists to get patients back home.
Now that Dunstan’s bed numbers and high dependency unit were threatened by funding cuts, Dunstan could lose its role as a ‘‘halfway’’ post between home and Dunedin Hospital, putting more pressure on families and the St John Ambulance charity, Feeney said.
‘‘They have a professional ambulance crew and a very large number of volunteers. But they are being stretched and we are already seeing delays in getting patients to Dunstan . . . And there’s a good chance we won’t be transporting them to Dunstan anymore. We will be sending them straight to Dunedin,’’ Feeney said.
Wanaka’s message to the Southern District Health Board last week was clear: sort out expensive, infrequently-required specialist services and cull unnecessary patients from Dunedin’s emergency department rather than attack an efficiently run, rural hospital with charitable status, where the local directors are personally liable if the outfit fails.
Wanaka Medical Centre GP Andrew McLeod says this means the hospital and the public must make some tough adjustments.
On the hospital’s part, this could mean reversing a decision to keep neurosurgery in Dunedin.
Meanwhile, the entire 300,000-strong southern public, not just rural patients, may have to accept travelling to specialist hubs in other centres.
In 2010, this news organisation went to the streets with a public campaign to keep neurosurgery specialists in Dunedin. But McLeod says the ‘‘ harsh reality is that it should have been sent to Christchurch’’.
Aspiring Medical Centre GP Fiona MacLean agrees. ‘‘I think most would prefer neurosurgery in a big centre that does lots of it.’’
Other examples of the specialist hub model already exist, for example,at Burwood Hospital (spinal injury) and Auckland’s Starship Hospital (specialist services for sick children).
MacLean said the pressure on St John Ambulance to do more transfers to Dunedin Hospital was ‘‘the elephant in the room’’.
St John Ambulance is funded by the Ministry of Health, ACC and donations and relies heavily on volunteer support.
McLeod agreed. ‘‘We have got to have reliable easy transport systems and we are relying on a charity. That is nothing against St John, but they are not included in the health system,’’ he said.
Wanaka has two medical centres serving a population of about 9036 locals (census 2013), as well many South Westland residents who travel over the Haast Pass.
Several years ago, the practices combined with other allied health services to form Wanaka Lakes Health Centre. While they remain separate businesses, they work collaboratively and share after-hours duties. Neither the health centre nor Dunstan Hospital provide emergency services care.
The result of the health board’s funding negotiations with Central Otago Health Services Ltd are not yet known.
The board meets in Invercargill on Thursday, June 4, and COHSL meets next Tuesday, June 9.