Buildings in bad shape
One-fifth of Auckland and Northland hospital facilities, including Starship children’s hospital, are beyond their life expectancy or “not fit for purpose”, say health boards.
Health unions have flagged leaks, mould and asbestos among a range of possible problems.
A new report shows budget constraints have resulted in four district health boards (DHBS) in the Northern region having to prioritise funding over maintenance.
As a result several buildings, including Whanga¯ rei Hospital, North Shore Hospital’s medical tower block, Starship buildings and Galbraith facilities at Middlemore, were now at or beyond their life expectancy.
At the same time the report says more than half a million patients are expected to move into the region in the next 20 years adding pressure on “already stretched” health services.
The four DHBS — Northland, Waitemata, Auckland and Counties Manukau — made the case for a new hospital in their Northern Region Long Term Investment Plan report that was made available late last week, but presented to Health Minister David Clark back in March.
It follows revelations this year that buildings at Middlemore Hospital were leaking and dangerous mould and bacteria were growing in them.
While the new report doesn’t detail specific problems in the buildings, health unions told the Herald “not fit for purpose” could mean anything from the problems identified at Middlemore through to the size and upkeep of rooms being insufficient.
Resident Doctors’ Association national secretary Dr Deborah Powell said she visited a laboratory at the Whanga¯ rei Hospital last week which she described as being like something from “medieval” times.
It had been earmarked for a “desperately needed” upgrade for more than a decade with no action.
Northland’s facilities were in the worst condition of all four DHBS. Nearly a quarter were “very poor” or “poor”, while 48 per cent were “average”, 12 per cent were “good” and only 17 per cent were “very good”.
The second worst area was Counties Manukau where 9 per cent of facilities were “very poor” and 12.3 per cent were in “poor condition”.
Last Friday, the Government announced a $224 million funding boost to improve surgery units and add new facilities at North Shore and Whanga¯ rei hospitals.
Clark said this funding would add new capacity in Auckland — but as the Northern Region LTIP confirms, more would be needed. “We are committed to doing just that and further capacity announcements will follow in future.”
Ian Powell, executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, said he suspected problems of leaking buildings and mould, revealed at Middlemore, would be common in many other hospitals.
“These findings do not surprise me, under the previous Government for eight of the nine years there has been significant underfunding.”
Clark said since becoming health minister it had been clear more needed to be invested in health for the growing, ageing population.
“The Northern Region LTIP is a very valuable piece of work. It provides a good picture of long-term demand and demographic pressures. I congratulate the four DHBS for the work that has gone into it.”
The report also showed that 57 per cent of NZ population growth in the next 20 years will be in the North, with more than 562,000 more people estimated to be living in the area.
Each DHB has also identified critical site infrastructure challenges, including disruptions to hospital water mains supply, ageing and vulnerable power supply infrastructure, issues relating to asbestos and leaks.
‘DHBS] Nearly a quarter [of all four were ‘very poor' or ‘poor', while 48 per cent were ‘average', 12 per cent were ‘good' and only 17 per cent ’ were ‘very good'.
Northland’s facilities were in the worst condition of all four DHBS, the report says.