Counties Manukau Health has dropped plans for a Ronald McDonald House for families of Middlemore Hospital patients after its public health specialists reportedly opposed links with the fast food giant.
The district health board confirmed to the Herald on Sunday it had made its decision after taking "the advice of our public health team of doctors" but would not elaborate on the details of that advice.
But a medical source told the Herald on Sunday there had been opposition from the public health team to the DHB being associated with McDonald's.
The decision was news to the Ronald McDonald House charity, which understood talks were on hold - but not that the health board had ditched the plan. It only learned of the decision when the Herald on Sunday called.
There is widespread community concern the amount of easily available fast food is contributing to New Zealand's increasing child obesity problem. A McDonald's outlet left Auckland Hospital in 2005, after eight years of controversy about the links between fast food and health.
But one expert last night said it would be a "real shame" if the DHB had rejected the offer because it didn't want to be associated with the fast-food chain.
Food and nutrition writer and Herald on Sunday columnist Niki Bezzant said: "I have seen how the Ronald McDonald House at Auckland Hospital works and it's a pretty amazing place and there's really no hint of the influence of fast food there except that [McDonald's] put up the money to pay for [the facility].
"I don't think it's intended to promote fast food to people who have got kids in hospital."
In a statement the DHB said its executive had considered the approach from Ronald McDonald "very carefully, as proposals of this nature can be very divisive with staff and public alike".
"On balance, we decided to take the advice of our public health team of doctors and to respectfully decline taking discussions further. We sincerely thank Ronald McDonald House Charity for their offer."
There are four Ronald McDonald Houses across New Zealand, and the charity's New Zealand CEO, Wayne Howett, described Counties Manukau Health's decision as "at odds with other DHBs nationally".
"We talked to the Middlemore Foundation as part of our national review of paediatric health care services, with a view to assessing the needs of the Middlemore facility and how we might incorporate those into our future plans to meet the needs of families around the country with a child in hospital.
"We are committed to our planned support in as many facilities as possible for families whose children face a medical journey, so will continue to assess and invest in facilities where there is a demand for our services.
"Our hospital partners agree that our support reduces stress for families, and helps them deliver the best care possible. Families who stay [at the house] have more time to spend with their child, interact with their doctors, and make important decisions about their child's care."
Bezzant said Ronald McDonald House provided a place for parents to go during a really stressful time. "It makes life pretty tough for parents from out of the area or from a long way away who have got kids in hospital because there is nothing for them in the hospitals, they have to sleep on the floor in the rooms and things like that."
The first Kiwi Ronald McDonald House opened in Wellington in 1991 and the charity now operates two Ronald McDonald Houses in Auckland and one each in Wellington and Christchurch. It has other rooms and services across the country, too. "Last year alone we supported over 3700 families and provided over 41,000 nights of accommodation," Howett said.