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Southern DHB plan under scrutiny

Representatives of the Southern District Health Board met with a strong crowd in Te Anau on Monday night to facilitate feedback on the organisation’s 10-year plan.

The DHB is nearing the end of a district-wide tour to engage with the public on its guiding strategic document, which is underpinned by two goals: improving patient access and population health outcomes, and achieving clinical and financial sustainability.

Southern DHB deputy chief executive Lexie O’Shea said on Monday that with about 60 percent of the population living in rural areas, ensuring local access to health services was of particular importance to the Southern District.

Local health professionals expressed frustration at having to charge patients for procedures that were fully DHB-funded in hospitals, or not perform them at all.

“I’ve heard fiefdom a number of times tonight – we know what you’re talking about,” Ms O’Shea said at the conclusion of the meeting.

Fiordland Eyecare optometrist Daryl Parkes said he had seen patients travel all the way to Invercargill just to fail a basic visual acuity test, performed by an ophthalmologist at the hospital despite the fact that he could very easily do the test locally.

There were state-of-the-art machines at Fiordland Medical Centre – including a $35,000 retinal camera – that were under utilized because they were only funded for operation by visiting DHB specialists, he said.

Fiordland Medical Centre general practitioner Steve Hoskin said there were serious equity issues that needed to be addressed for rural practices across the district and the country.

“The patient who needs a blood test in town gets it for free; the person here has to pay,” he said. “How can we keep them here and save them a trip?”

Having to charge patients for routine procedures like blood tests and x-rays because they weren’t DHB-funded made Fiordland Medical Centre into an essentially private practice, Mr Hoskin said.

“Queenstown gets about $1.7 million for emergency funding. I’ve been here for eight years, and we’ve been pointing out that we do emergency care here,” he said. “If we did a pro-rata rate with Queenstown, we’d get $280,000.”

“I’d love to see the document stipulate ‘we will aim for equitable healthcare’.”

Fiordland Medical Centre general practitioner David Hamilton said rural GPs should be an integral part of the district planning process, and that it wouldn’t be hard to involve them all.

“There aren’t that many GPs, and we will all have some good ideas about what can be improved,” he said. “We are a good resource that are really rarely tapped into.”

Other attendees suggested collaboration with training institutions to ensure continuity of staffing, better communication between practices and facilities, and waiting room prioritization of patients who had travelled great distances.

Southern DHB Health Services Plan programme director Pim Allen said the board had decided that health outcomes were paramount and funds were just a means to an end.

“What we’re in business for is people’s health. If we get that right, the rest of it will come right.”

The DHB road show concludes next week before the plan is reworked to include feedback and taken to the board in February.

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