Tackling the St John issue at centre stage
At recent meetings about the projected $1 million Dunstan Hospital funding cut, the ‘‘elephant in the room’’ has been St John Ambulance, doctors say.
The Southern District Health Board doesn’t just have the knives out for rural hospitals. It is seeking cuts across the board, from hospital kitchens to transport contracts.
Wanaka doctors are concerned if Dunstan Hospital loses beds and jobs they will have to send more patients to Dunedin Hospital, putting pressure on St John.
The charity’s Central Otago territory manager Kelvin Perriman was not at recent Dunstan Hospital meetings in Alexandra, Cromwell and Wanaka but is aware of the concerns.
St John’s $2 million operating budget for Central Otago is funded by the Ministry of Health, ACC and district health boards. It covers things like staff wages and equipment and vehicle costs.
Donors and sponsors fund capital items such as ambulances, stretchers and defibrillators.
Perriman said he was talking with Central Otago Health Services, which runs Dunstan, as well as the district health board but cannot discuss details while the outcome of negotiations is not known.
But he wants to reassure Central Otago.
Nationally, St John has long struggled to raise cash and volunteers. Calls for support to cover annual shortfalls are common.
Two years ago, St John got more operational funding. It also restructured in Southland, creating the present Central Otago territory. Two more jobs were created in Wanaka and Alexandra got a paramedic.
Perriman says the changes were needed to meet the needs of a growing population.
The district’s paid workforce of 24 is now ‘‘about double’’ that of 10 years ago.
Changes are continuing. A new ACC contract this winter means 12 staff have been appointed to specifically do skifield work – eight in Queenstown, four in Wanaka.
A Queenstown St John ambulance and crew will be stationed at each of the two Queenstown skifields but in Wanaka, which has three skifields, the skifield crew will be based in town.
Accounting firm Crowe Haworth helped St John buy the three new $115,000 4WD ambulances to be used on skifields, taking the district fleet to 18. The modified 4WD trucks are available year-round for all off-road call-outs.
Last month, St John started a new service dedicated to transferring patients between Lakes District Hospital at Frankton and Southland Hospital in Invercargill.
Perriman sees future potential for a similar dedicated patient transfer service from Central Otago to Dunedin Hospital. It is based on examples in Christchurch and Auckland and patients can be on the road in 15 minutes. Air ambulances would continue to be used as normal for urgent cases.
Perriman said Alexandra, Cromwell and Wanaka ambulances would continue to back each other up so Wanaka’s ambulances do not have to go all the way to Dunedin.
It would also continue its Monday to Friday health shuttle service between Cromwell and Dunedin Hospital.
Perriman said St John was ‘‘fortunate’’ to have 100 volunteers at the moment.
‘‘We are always looking for fundraising opportunities and people to help us purchase new equipment,’’ he said.
Accounting firm Crowe Haworth has helped St John buy three new $115,0004WDambulances to be used on skifields.