Hospital staff in Greymouth and Westport have taken the unprecedented step of penning an open letter to the people of the West Coast expressing their "grave concern" about new hospital plans.
Every union involved with staff at Grey Base Hospital gathered in the lecture theatre last night, and unanimously agreed on the open letter.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists branch president and Grey Hospital doctor Paul Holt advised the meeting that in November he received a "bombshell" about the new hospital, while attending a conference in Australia.
While chatting with Dr Tim Molloy, of Northland, Dr Holt said he was happy with the proposed hospital plans for Greymouth, but was surprised when Dr Molloy replied "we wouldn't get this" because the cost was too high.
Dr Holt replied that without specialist obstetric (maternity) and anaesthetic cover, nine to 11 women and-or their babies would be at risk of harm or death each year or two.
He was then told the figures had been reviewed, and "only one" woman a year was at risk.
The 'bombshell' came when Dr Molloy revealed that he was on the partnership steering group appointed by the Health Minister to oversee the Greymouth hospital rebuild.
A month later, the Greymouth Star published details of the business case, including comments from National Health Board acting national director Michael Hundleby, which cautioned that "significant components of the business case have been superseded".
Alarmed, the union initiated the staff meeting last night.
Dr Holt, the unions and staff now say several years of work by clinicians appears to have been discarded.
"This shows a disregard for clinical engagement and is a national issue, not just a West Coast one," he said.
They want the minister, Tony Ryall, to support what is called 'option 3', which would preserve, among other things, specialist obstetrics and anaesthetic cover at Greymouth.
"We further insist that should any changes be proposed to the options presented in the business case for whatever reasons, a full consultation process is ensured before any changes are agreed.
"We are currently in the dark as to possible changes and may be accused of being unnecessarily anxious. However, we can only be gravely concerned at what we do know and this has led to the unusual step of writing to you (West Coasters) this way."
The union says the figure for the partial hospital rebuild was $76 million, but instead the Government had set aside $60 million.
In a statement this morning, Mr Hundleby said patient safety was their top priority, "and this is why the ministry is no longer able to continue with brownfield facility option 3".
"These changes to the business plan have come following the structural engineers' report, which stated the current Grey Hospital is in significantly poorer condition than previously believed.
"The Ministry of Health is committed to health services remaining in Greymouth and would like to reinforce its commitment to working with staff to find the best solution for the Greymouth community.
"We appreciate the work clinical staff have done to progress the business case, and we look forward to continuing to work with clinical staff and the community on the next phase of this project."
The full business case can be read on the Greymouth Star website under the 'health' tab.
- The Greymouth Star