Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.
Over the long weekend I have been contacted by a number of people excited about a statement made by the new National Party and opposition leader Christopher Luxon.
Speaking at a public meeting in Blenheim last week, he touched on the importance of hospitals. He said the country needed to "actually invest" in small hospitals such as Blenheim's Wairua Hospital.
The reason for the local excitement in Kāpiti over Luxon's statement is underpinned by one of the biggest political messages sent by Kāpiti residents on health issues. The people who contacted me were signatories to the 22,500-strong petition for a local community hospital.
The petition presented to Parliament on June 14, 2018 took only just over three months to secure. Not only was it the biggest petition ever organised in Kāpiti but it was also a record-breaker for achieving this in such a short period.
The campaign was led by disability activist Sue Emerali and a small group of volunteers, part of the newly formed Kāpiti Health Advisory Group (KHAG). The campaign, funded via a $4000 grant from the mayoral office, also succeeded in publicising a range of horror stories from people unable to access health services in Kāpiti. A situation hidden from the public eye until the hospital campaign ripped it wide open.
The huge petition and the accompanying horror stories stimulated an immediate reaction from health bureaucrats at CCDHB and MoH as well as politicians. There was immediate pressure to dismiss the idea of a hospital in Kāpiti as being too costly and not practical.
But even as this move was attempted, it highlighted the gaps in local services and the arduous task of locals, especially our seniors, having to travel to Wellington's tertiary hospital.
On January 18, 2019, KHAG, backed by the petition, presented its submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health. Its subsequent report tabled in November of that year had this observation to make on KHAG's submission:
"We are pleased to note that, since this petition was presented, there has been substantial engagement between the petitioner and the CCDHB. As a result there seems to be a consensus that what is important for Kāpiti is having the necessary services and facilities available, in whatever form they take, rather than simply a new hospital.
"We agree. We commend the petitioner for her advocacy for the community, and the CCDHB for engaging constructively and working on innovative solutions to local need. We expect the MoH to continue to facilitate positive engagement between DHBs and local communities."
CCDHB's so-called innovative solution had initially seen them invest just over $20,000 in KHAG to help with community engagement. KHAG membership was a collection of largely health consumer groups and some health providers. CCDHB next set up and funded a health network of providers with the chair of KHAG as a co-chair of the network.
More recently, however, KHAG's direct access to the network through its co-chairing role seems to have become nebulous.
In the meanwhile, I understand, CCDHB is setting up a governance group with community representation.
In another development during the early stages of "engaging constructively"(as the health committee report stated) CCDHB's systems committee had publicly noted that in terms of the future approach using "locality planning" Kāpiti had proven to be a leading light in the Wellington region.
There had been suggestions Kāpiti was to be the test on developing this template. We are, however, now hearing that CCDHB is working to test and develop this template through Porirua.
There is now some confusion as to the relationship between KHAG and CCDHB's health network. There has also been serious delay in KHAG securing data from CCDHB on the type and levels of services accessed by Kāpiti residents. Making it difficult to identify the gaps in the services.
In its December 2019 Christmas greeting CCDHB said this: "... our role is to ensure health services are funded for and accessible to the people who need them, where they need them, and when they need them. It is a challenge, but one we are ready for. We have to learn from the past and look after the present and be ready for the future."
Given the initial local response to Luxon's call for the country to invest in small hospitals one could expect renewed calls for a community hospital in Kāpiti.
Kāpiti's growth strategy projects a population increase of 30,000 in the next 30 years. A population of 90k by 2051 will require planning for tertiary health services.