'Urgent' plans to move facilities stranded at derelict Princess Margaret Hospital in Christchurch delayed

An extra $2.5 million is being spent at Princess Margaret Hospital each year to mitigate risks while plans to move ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

An extra $2.5 million is being spent at Princess Margaret Hospital each year to mitigate risks while plans to move remaining services are progressed.

"Urgent" plans to move mental health services out of Christchurch's earthquake-damaged Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) have been delayed, leaving vulnerable children sharing grounds with mentally unwell adults displaying "inappropriate" behaviour.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) approved a business case to relocate mental health services stranded at the derelict facility in late 2016, which was expected to go to the Capital Investment Committee in February.

The Ministry of Health delayed the hearing as the business case lacked key information, including the source of funding.

Even when it was approved, it was likely to be another three years before any new facilities were available in Christchurch, the CDHB said in January.

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Disgust at mental health care conditions at Christchurch's Princess Margaret Hospital

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) Christchurch mental health organiser Lynda Boyd said some services had been "isolated without the backup a large functional hospital provides" since the bulk of PMH services moved to Burwood Hospital in June 2016.

Nurses had raised concerns about child and family services having to share the grounds with mentally unwell adult patients at PMH.

Children, families and staff had been exposed to verbal abuse and sexually inappropriate comments, nurses reported.

Adult patients could be seen smoking marijuana and urinating on the shared grounds outside.

"Vulnerable, mentally unwell children are having to run the gauntlet of being close to mentally unwell adults," Boyd said.

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Staff were under pressure to ensure children were safe at all times.

Other services, including mothers and babies and eating disorders, were located further from the adult unit.

The situation at PMH added more stress to a mental health sector already "in crisis", she said.

"It's really hard to understand why more urgency hasn't been applied by the Ministry on this."

Ministry of Health critical projects director Michael Hundleby​ said the CDHB was responsible for planning the relocation of PMH services as part of its earthquake rebuild.

The business case it provided "did not cover all of the information required".

The Ministry was waiting for the CDHB to submit a revised business plan, and provided advice in February to help it finalise the document. 

It agreed the mental health services that remained at PMH needed to be moved and had sought assurances from the DHB that appropriate temporary arrangements were in place, Hundleby said.

CDHB chief executive David Meates​ said finding a solution was "an urgent priority".

"We are working through the final issues that have been raised by the Ministry of Health to complete the indicative business case."

At a health select committee question session on Wednesday, Meates said the board was spending an extra $2.5 million each year to mitigate risks at PMH, where there was minimal medical and nursing cover available.

CDHB chief medical officer Sue Nightingale told the committee the facilities were not ideal.

"We've got for example, in the rehab unit, bits of the building shored up with big planks and visible cracks in the wall, and it's just demoralising for patients and staff."

Meates said a range of options had been explored, with a new facility on the Hillmorton Hospital site considered the "most compelling" one.

An original business case for the Christchurch hospitals redevelopment prepared by the CDHB in 2012 included the relocation of PMH-based mental health services to Christchurch Hospital's parkside building.

Stuff revealed last year the final business case submitted to Cabinet cut the planned move without the CDHB's knowledge. 

Critical structural weaknesses were identified in the PMH buildings after the 2011 earthquake, and engineers recommended making seismic upgrades. The decision was made to keep services at the facility only until they could be moved. 

 - Stuff

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