Hospitals "around the country" have building issues that need to be dealt with, health minister Dr David Clark says - but he can't do much unless the DHBs are frank about the issues they're dealing with.
Clark told Counties Manukau DHB acting chairman Rabin Rabindran today he was disappointed to not have been told about the state of Middlemore Hospital's buildings, where toxic mould and rot have been proliferating for years.
During a visit to the DHB's south Auckland facilities, Clark was briefed on urgent repair work being done at the Scott building due to weathertightness issues.
But Clark said he was not briefed on problems with other buildings, which came to light when a report released under the OIA showed Kidz First, the Superclinic, and the McIndoe building were also decaying due to leaks, and toxic Stachybotrys mould was growing in many of the wall cavities.
Raw sewage was also leaking into the Scott building's walls due to deteriorating pipes, DHB chief executive Gloria Johnson told Radio NZ yesterday. Other buildings - and hospitals - probably had the same issue, she said.
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Clark had asked Rabindran for a clear, detailed plan of the board's asset replacement and refurbishment programme.
"We as a Government are willing to partner in resolving issues but we can only do that when we have a full information and a clear plan of the priorities of the DHB," Clark said.
Rabindran was "embarrassed by the public commentary of the DHB on the issue and undertook to engage constructively in the future", he said.
Rabindran declined an interview with the Herald. He has been in the role for less than three months, after Lester Levy resigned as chairman of all three Auckland DHBs in December.
Estimates of the full cost of refurbishments and rebuilding replacements at the DHB run from more than $100m to well over $1bn.
Clark said with such "ropey" numbers it was clear the board did not have an accurate idea of costs, which made it hard for the Government to pledge support.
The DHB has known of the issue since 2012, but has told RNZ it was reluctant to ask for extra funding because the previous National government expected a surplus each year.
National's former health minister Jonathan Coleman quit politics last week for a job in the private health sector.
Clark said he had met with 18 out of the 20 DHBs since becoming minister, and heard "plenty of stories" about capital projects that needed funding.
He did not confirm whether other hospitals were also leaky, but said there were "hospitals around the country that have building issues that indicate they'll need replacement or refurbishment in the coming decade".
DHBs must engage with the Ministry of Health so it can prioritise which projects need doing first, Clark said.
"The upcoming Budget's operating and capital allowances are bigger than any the previous government put forward ... We're not going to shy away from building public infrastructure and assets."
Nurses' and doctors' unions have said they are fearful about staff and patient safety following the revelations.
But Clark said all DHBs, including Counties Manukau, had assured him patients' health was not currently at risk.
CMDHB said last week it had been assured by infection specialists that the fungal growth presented no risk.
"This is because a physical barrier will exist between the remediation work and patient areas and the work area is not open to ventilation or near an air intake."
The infection control team would check work before each stage proceeded.
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The Council of Trade Unions today said the mould at Middlemore was symptomatic of crumbling public assets and called for the "restrictive" budget responsibility rules to be reconsidered.
CTU president Richard Wagstaff said the case was "just the tip of the iceberg".
"On top of known underfunding, we're going to find deferred maintenance and shoddy purchasing decisions becoming visible in other hospitals and health services, and indeed wider public services like our schools."