Buller people may know by Christmas when they'll get a new integrated family health centre (IFHC) to replace Buller Hospital and Buller Health Medical Centre.

The Ministry of Health today provided its most specific assurance in months on the project which has been delayed while the ministry sought a funder to finance the building.

Responding to questions from the Westport News, the ministry's director of critical projects Michael Hundleby confirmed negotiations were underway with a potential funding partner and "we hope to have reached an agreement by Christmas".

Mr Hundleby would not reveal the partner's identity, saying the information was commercially confidential during negotiations.


The ministry was working with the partner on a shortlist of sites for the facility, detailed design, the structure of the contract and a legal agreement, he said.

The West Coast Partnership Group - which is overseeing the project - had been updated on progress at its monthly meetings.

The final cost of the IFHC would not be known until detailed design was done and the main construction contractor was found, Mr Hundleby said.

The IFHC was initially supposed to cost $26 million. Over the last four years the cost has fallen to $8.1m and bed numbers have plummeted from 92 to 10, partly because the IFHC would no longer provide aged care.

The Government has said it would not stump up the money to build the IFHC, despite financing the rebuild of Grey Base Hospital.

Asked if there was any certainty over when building would begin and when the IFHC might open, Mr Hundleby said that would depend on a number of factors. They included finalising commercial arrangements and the availability of construction companies.

"However, the project is a priority for the West Coast Hospital Redevelopment Partnership Group and Ministry of Health and we hope to be in a position to provide a clear way forward by Christmas."

The Westport News sought information on the project today after partnership group meeting minutes obtained by the Labour Party under the Official Information Act revealed a "viable partner" had come forward.

Mr Hundleby told the meeting on June 30 that the partner had made a commitment to build the IFHC and lease it back to the West Coast District Health Board.

- Westport News