Minister of Health Andrew Little has officially opened a new cardiac catheter laboratory and two new operating theatres at Whangārei Hospital. Crown funding of $24 million was allocated to the two projects, and the new endoscopy suite that was opened last year, in 2018.
Northland DHB chairman Harry Burkhardt said patients requiring access to a cardiac catheter laboratory had had to travel to the tertiary centre in Auckland, irrespective of where they lived in Northland.
"Our challenge has always been to ensure that a patient receives the same standard of care locally as he or she would have received had they lived in a large city with direct access to a tertiary institution, despite the 'tyranny of distance,'" he said.
Once the laboratory and theatres were fully operational, in July, the board would work towards fulfilling its obligation to deliver health equity and providing the same level of care to everyone, no matter where they lived.
DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain said the new cardiac catheter laboratory project hadn't just been about having the facility in Northland. It had a much broader vision - 'Build it, and they will come.'
"This new facility will be a quantum change in the way care is delivered to patients, and means that Northland is now an attractive option for cardiologists with specialist skills to come and be part of a redeveloped service and contribute to the delivery of healthcare for Northlanders," he said.
"Prior to this we couldn't attract young hotshots. Now we are getting fantastic applicants for all our cardiology roles. We have already recruited two additional New Zealand-trained cardiologists."
Meanwhile the new operating theatres were critical in terms of meeting unprecedented growth in the need for acute medical and surgical services.
"I know that there are still improvements we need to make in our main operating theatre block, but I'm excited that this, along with much greater use of Kaitaia's second theatre, is going to have a huge impact on our surgical throughput and reduce the waiting times for Northlanders," he added.
"With minimal capacity in private hospitals, our only options have been to look at Auckland helping out.
"Ironically, pretty soon, we will all be one organisation, Health NZ. However, we had already commenced planning for some shared waiting lists with Auckland and Waitematā DHBs for our longest-waiting patients. We will continue to progress this to further supplement capacity so that Northland is no longer the poor little (but incredibly beautiful and perfectly formed) northern cousin."
The new facilities meant Northlanders could be treated and cared for closer to home, not only reducing the need to travel to Auckland for procedures, but meaning fewer delays to treatment and more positive health outcomes.
Dr Chamberlain highlighted the work that the projects team had done managing and delivering both builds well under the cost of comparable projects in other regions, despite the significant "curveball" of a global pandemic.