West Coast DHB should reconsult, says mayor

By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The West Coast District Health Board needs to reconsult Buller people about its Westport health centre plans, says Buller Mayor Pat McManus.

"They have varied it fairly widely on the configuration they've consulted on. They should come back and consult with the public again and see if they get the same support.''

The bed numbers at Westport's proposed integrated family health centre (IFHC) have been slashed, from 92 to 30 and the estimated cost is down from $26 million to $18m.

Rest home and dementia care beds are gone and GP and long-stay beds have reduced in the centre, which will replace Buller Hospital and Buller Health Medical Service.

Most of the slack in aged care will be taken up by expansions planned by Westport's O'Conor Home.

Mr McManus, who also chairs the O'Conor Home Trust, said the aim had always been to have all aged care on one site.

Given the problems privately funding the IFHC on the Buller Hospital site, the community should also be asked again where it wanted the centre built.

"We wanted it on our site, they (the DHB) wanted it on their site. I think we were proved right in the end because one of the things holding up the Westport rebuild is the desire to use outside money to build.

"Who's going to make an investment on the uncertainties of being on Crown land?

"That permission is needed from the minister anyway, and I gather hasn't happened.''

The O'Conor Home's door was still open, if the DHB wanted to build the health centre there, he said.

"It still makes more sense to me.''

"They've already said they don't want to be building owners, so why not build it on the O'Conor Home land?''

GP beds have also decreased in the latest IFHC proposal, from 12 to 10. That's five fewer than the number of beds currently provided in Buller Hospital's Foote Ward, emergency, palliative and maternity care.

Mr McManus believes Buller needs at least 12 beds to replace the existing beds.

He is disappointed the IFHC - which was to have been built by now - has been delayed.

He acknowledged the DHB had had a tough time coping with the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes and with Grey Base Hospital's rebuild, but said he had heard nothing from it for months other than receiving its weekly newsletters.

He realised the DHB's priority had to be earthquake strengthening Grey Base Hospital, and that Buller Hospital could continue as is in the meantime.

However, parts of Buller Hospital were also an earthquake risk.

The DHB has said it expects to obtain engineering reports on Buller Hospital buildings early next year. Chief executive David Meates has hinted the DHB might drop the plan for an all-new health centre in favour of reusing some existing Buller Hospital buildings.

Mr McManus said the DHB would need to talk to the community again if that were the case, because it had not consulted on existing buildings.

Meanwhile, he said history had made him sceptical about promises regarding Buller health services.

"Those of us who have been around long enough will have seen many changes at Buller Hospital from the days it was run under its own board. Each time it was going to get better and better. I don't think we've made a hell of a lot of progress to be honest.''

Buller was lucky to have loyal staff at both Buller Hospital and O'Conor Home, who kept things going no matter what, he said.

"We should be grateful for that because I'm sure we wouldn't get the same backing in other bigger places throughout New Zealand.''

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