‘We don’t want to go there’
Some of the South Island’s most vulnerable people are being treated at derelict Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), but it’s too ‘‘awful’’ for governmentappointed reviewers to visit.
Urgent plans to move the remaining mental health services from PMH have been in bureaucratic limbo for more than two years, despite staff and patients describing the facilities as ‘‘disgusting’’ and ‘‘appallingly depressing’’. The rest of the services shifted out last year.
About 31 patients from the youth mental health, mothers and babies, eating disorders and longterm rehabilitation units were stuck at the facility, which the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) described as ‘‘substandard’’ and ‘‘not appropriate’’.
The reviewers tasked with assessing the services before they could move met with CDHB officials in June, but declined to visit the premises because they ‘‘sound awful, we don’t want to go there’’.
They also said the mothers and babies and eating disorder services needed downsizing.
The services, which treated life-threatening eating disorders and mothers suffering severe post-natal depression with their babies, were in high demand with a total of 13 beds to service the whole South Island.
The reviewers’ report, which was released on Tuesday, supported all services left at PMH moving to Hillmorton Hospital, but asked the CDHB to first complete another review to justify the extent of its mental health services, delaying the move.
After the June meeting, CDHB mental health general manager Toni Gutschlag wrote to the Ministry of Health (MOH) to ‘‘formally raise concerns’’ and asked for confirmation the reviewers were practising health professionals. The MOH has said they were a senior psychiatrist and a mental health manager from the North Island.
Clinical leaders who attended the review left the meeting ‘‘despondent and somewhat distressed’’, Gutschlag wrote.
‘‘Now it seems we need to embark on a new planning process.’’ The CDHB spent an extra $2.5 million each year to mitigate risks with minimal medical and nursing back-up on-site since the rest of PMH’s services moved out to Burwood in June 2016.
Some PMH walls were shored up with big planks and covered in visible cracks. Critical structural weaknesses were identified in PMH buildings after the February 2011 earthquake and engineers recommended making seismic upgrades. Officials decided to keep services at the facility only until they could be moved.
MOH director of critical projects Michael Hundleby said the reviewers’ report agreed relocation of the services from their ‘‘currently highly unsatisfactory facilities’’ was necessary.
The reviewers said another review of the models of care for most of the services was needed.
‘‘There needs to be robust examination of the different ways these services could be configured for the South Island into the future before we make a 50-year investment,’’ Hundleby said.
‘‘For example, it may be that a young person in Dunedin with an eating disorder might not have to travel to Christchurch for specialised care if their local DHB could be supported to deliver that care closer to home.’’
Gutschlag said mental health services based at PMH were ‘‘very small’’ and any bed reductions would have ‘‘a significant impact in terms of access by the people of the South Island, cost of the service and potentially the viability of maintaining a core of specialist expertise’’.
The CDHB submitted a business case in late 2016, but the Government rejected it as it lacked key information, including the source of funding, and requested a clinical review of the services.
Correspondence between the CDHB and the MOH showed the CDHB would have to come up with at least $30m to relocate the services as no Crown funding would be available.