After missing out Wanganui during the election campaign, Prime Minister John Key was in town yesterday and quick to rubbish its zombie-town tag.

Mr Key opened the Jabulani Medical Centre on Wicksteed St, spent some time with the party faithful and visited Waverley Sawmills. The medical centre, a project led by Andrew Brown and his wife Tanya, will have six GPs and three nurses working out of it.

Mr Key said the Government needed to focus on primary healthcare facilities, such as Jabulani.

"It's very important because in the end if we can provide really good health care at a sort of local level then we avoid having to send people to hospitals unnecessarily," he told the Chronicle. "It's better for them because they're closer to home and it's better for the state."


He said investment in primary healthcare saved money in the long run.

"We're fairly committed to doing some good work around obesity, I mean one of the big issues we see is trying to work on preventative care."

He said healthcare was the country's biggest expense and the cost was only going to increase. It was the only sector where technology drove demand.

"Ultimately we've got a very good health system in New Zealand, we're lucky to have fantastic health professionals but the big challenge for us is that as the population gets older and as the technology improves, the cost for the Government continues to rise.

"Our challenge is to make sure we meet the expectations of New Zealanders, which inevitably involves spending more money, it's also trying to spend it morewisely," Mr Key said.

Dr Brown said it was great to have the country's leader in town for the opening of the centre and it had been the "pinnacle" of his career: "We're absolutely honoured."

Finally having the centre up and running after five years of planning was a relief, Dr Brown said.

"We've been working in a building zone for seven months. It was really quite challenging. Hard work paid off in the end."

Huntley School Year 8 pupil Emelye Brown, Dr Brown's daughter, also had some questions for Mr Key about the recent Apec conference in China. She had been studying it at school. "(I thought) it would be cool to find out more about it from his perspective," Emelye said.

While in Wanganui, Mr Key also made a point of quashing the "zombie-town" label. "I know they've been calling you names (but) don't take it personally because I've had a week of it."

He didn't believe some of the doomsday projections.

"I would utterly reject that label, I think it's a great place, Wanganui. The town's got a vibrancy about it, I think, that's pretty obvious for everyone to see and it's doing well," Mr Key said.

It was easy to criticise a particular place and some outsider would always have his or her perspective but provincial and rural New Zealand was the heartbeat of New Zealand.

Later, Mr Key spent an hour at Waverley Sawmills and enjoyed a steak sandwich with some of the staff. Managing director Peter Martin said Whanganui MP Chester Borrows was a regular visitor to the mill and had invited Mr Key along.

"(We wanted) to give an insight on a small-town operation," Mr Martin said.

"With all this zombie-town carry-on (we wanted to show) this is happening here.

"We are processing a lot of wood and this is employing a lot of people. We want to see our logs processed locally and have value added to it," he said.

"It went well and I'm sure he got something out of it."