Health Minister Clark says Southern DHB to 'lift its performance'

Southland Hospital run by the Southern District Health Board.
Southland Hospital run by the Southern District Health Board.

Health Minister David Clark says the Ministry of Health is working closely with the Southern District Health Board to support it to "lift its performance".

The SDHB has hit the headlines recently amid allegations of inadequate care from patients, long wait times for treatment and rural birthing facilities that are not fit for purpose.

Clark said "the Southern DHB has faced a number of challenges over recent years, including workforce issues and ageing facilities.

Health Minister David Clark has said the Ministry of Health is working closely with the Southern District Health Board on a range of issues.
Health Minister David Clark has said the Ministry of Health is working closely with the Southern District Health Board on a range of issues.

"Many of these issues reflect a legacy of underfunding and short-term thinking by the previous Government.

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"The Ministry of Health is working closely with the SDHB on a range of issues to support it to lift its performance.

"I have regular conversations with the Commissioner and the Southern District Health Board understands my clear expectation that it will continue to deliver the services that people of the South need and deserve."

SDHB chief medical officer Dr Nigel Miller said the people of southern New Zealand can have confidence in the health care system here.

"Southern DHB is staffed with highly skilled clinicians, who provide an outstanding service to people across our district every day – including more than 80,000 visits to the Emergency Department, and more than 13,000 elective surgeries every year.

"Like any modern health system, Southern is faced with range of challenges that are constantly changing. We take events where care may not have gone as well as they could, or even worse, very seriously. We encourage the reporting of all such events, and undertake reviews as necessary so we can learn from them."

When asked about the individual cases that have been raised in the media, Miller said: "We do not generally discuss individual patient care in the media – this is not only to respect the privacy of the individual patients, but also to reassure all patients that they can trust in the confidential relationship they have with those who care for them.

However, he said the pressures on the health system will never reduce.

"It is our role to plan in such a way as to create the maximum value to the population with the resources committed to health from the taxpayer. Unfortunately, there will always be competing priorities that cannot be entirely reconciled in a way that meets everyone's needs. However, it is our aim to work together to provide the greatest benefit for the communities we serve."

In May, Clark said he would "hold the Southern District Health Board to account to deliver maternity services in northern Southland," after Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker questioned him about a mother giving birth in the back of an ambulance.

The Minister said it is not appropriate for him to comment on individual cases, but several people have spoken out about inadequate care in the last year.

This week Invercargill nurse Rachel Terrill spoke out over the lack of treatment she received at Southland Hospital, where she works, after she had a tumour removed from her spine after collapsing in Australia. She said doctors in the emergency department in Invercargill, which she visited three times in severe pain, had told her her pain was "all in her head."

Balclutha man John Milne was also critical of the SDHB after his wife Anne died after suffering several aneurysms. She had been taken to Christchurch Hospital from Dunedin the day before because there was no neurosurgeon on duty at the Otago hospital.

Winton man Blair Vining was diagnosed with terminal cancer in October and given six to eight weeks to live without any treatment, but he was advised it would take eight weeks to get his first oncologist appointment. He did not have eight weeks to wait, so he went private and the treatment process started within three weeks. He has since presented a petition urging the Government to introduce a national cancer agency. 

And midwives in northern Southland and Central Otago have been critical of the SDHB's maternal and child hubs, which they have said are not fit for purpose. The SDHB failed to provide essential equipment at the hubs and has since launched an inquiry into their setup.