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A ‘void’ in health care planning as private plans proliferate

The Wānaka App

Sue Wards

09 May 2024, 5:06 PM

A ‘void’ in health care planning as private plans proliferate  Mayor Glyn Lewers and deputy mayor Quentin Smith both expressed disappointment that health authority Te Whatu Ora had left a void in planning health services.

Public figures have welcomed the investment in health services heralded by Wednesday’s (May 8) announcement of plans for a $300M privately-funded hospital for Wānaka’s Three Parks - but with a strong message that private health care is only part of the solution. 

Property investment company Roa announced it had sought Fast-track Approval for an “integrated regional hospital” comprising a five-level hospital. 

The news follows the outline of other plans for private/public health partnerships in the district (outside Te Whatu Ora’s planning) by Waitaki MP Miles Anderson, Queenstown Lakes District mayor Glyn Lewers, and others. In March, Wānaka’s Gordon family unveiled plans for a private health hub adjacent to the Wānaka Lakes Health Centre.

Design plans for a proposed ‘health hub’ for Wānaka include three building blocks comprising around 3,700m2.

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Roa announced it planned to engage “a high-quality private healthcare operator to manage the hospital”, but CEO Mike Saegers told the Wānaka App it was “an absolute priority for us for these facilities to be available to everyone”. 

“We’re looking at all options to make that happen, and we’re engaged with the public health sector about ways to do that. 

“Ultimately, we’re building what’s within our control, which is a five level hospital, four operating theatres, 70 plus beds and a 24 hour emergency department.”

The Wānaka App asked elected representatives, health officials, and Wānaka’s health service advocacy group, Health Action Wānaka (HAW), what they made of the range of privately-funded plans in place for health services; if they were happy with the current approach to planning health services; and whether they thought private healthcare plans would result in better access to healthcare for locals.

Te Whatu Ora: A void in strategy

Mayor Glyn Lewers said he welcomed investment in healthcare in the district, noting his disappointment that Health NZ/Te Whatu Ora had not provided a “roadmap”.

“Providing access to effective services for everyone in our community is paramount,” he said. 

“As a high-growth district, we need a holistic approach and forward planning to meet the needs of our increasing resident and visitor population now and into the future. It’s disappointing that, to date, Te Whatu Ora has not provided a clear roadmap to achieve this.”

Glyn said he hoped the Roa proposal provided an opportunity for local mayors, MPs and others to work constructively with Te Whatu Ora “in order to avoid a piecemeal approach to the increasingly urgent issue of healthcare provision in the Queenstown Lakes District and wider region”. 

An artist’s impression of the Roa healthcare precinct, which includes a five-level hospital.

Deputy mayor Quentin Smith also welcomed the investment, with the caveat that Te Whatu Ora needed to “get serious”.

“This is part of the solution but we need to ensure it comes along with access to public funded services in the Upper Clutha,” he said.

“There is unfortunately a void in regard to strategy planning and investment for servicing the Upper Clutha and Central Otago. We would welcome Te Whatu Ora getting serious about servicing the whole region outside of Dunedin, particularly given the centres of growth.”

HAW spokesperson Monique Mayze said the community needs to “continue advocating hard to ensure the provision of, and access to, actual healthcare services is equitable and benefits everyone”. 

“Without public investment in these proposals, what we will see is better access to healthcare for only those locals who can afford to pay for it. We believe that everyone in our community is entitled to access to publicly funded healthcare and that’s our focus,” she said.

Wānaka-Upper Clutha Community Board chair Simon Telfer echoed Monique’s comments.

Te Whatu Ora responds

A Te Whatu Ora spokesperson told the Wānaka App it was aware of “privately funded healthcare projects being mooted in the Lakes District and Central Otago area, including the Roa proposal”.

“We are committed to working with community leaders, iwi, and experts to design, deliver and commission services that meet the current and emerging healthcare needs of the local community,” they said.

“This needs to be balanced across other planning processes within Health NZ. Planning for the Otago/Southland area is part of our national, whole-of-system approach to delivering healthcare services.”

The spokesperson said Te Whatu Ora had been listening to the Wānaka community and that feedback was “being considered as part of the development of regional and national work programmes”.

“The future development of private healthcare facilities in any area is something we always seek to be aware of. This can assist in the development of our short, medium, and long-term planning and decision-making for publicly funded health services that meet the needs of our communities.”

The private Southern Cross Central Lakes Hospital in Queenstown has undertaken publicly-funded surgeries for some orthopaedic, ophthalmology, plastics, urology, and general surgery patients, she said.

“Health New Zealand Southern currently outsources some planned care surgical procedures to the private healthcare sector, as we work hard to reduce surgery wait times.” 

IMAGES: Supplied