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Hospital Acute Assessment Unit $9m blow-out

Thu, 21 Oct 2004

Hastings Hospital Acute Assessment Unit $9m blow-out

The Chief Executive Officer, Chris Clarke, and the Board Chairman, Kevin Atkinson should tender their resignations to the Hawkes Bay District Health Board over the huge cost blow-out over the construction of the Acute Assessment Unit at the Regional hospital site.

This now 12 million dollar project hasn't added one serviced bed to public health capacity for the region which, with 350 serviced beds, is now offering less than half of the 815 beds it had in 1990. The opening of the 20 bed Acute Assessment Unit has seen the removal of serviced beds elsewhere in the hospital.

Ward 4A of Hastings Hospital, which was the hospital’s pre-operative ward and contained 27 beds, has been sacrificed for the Acute Assessment Unit. The Unit’s 20 beds are not for patients who are admitted to the hospital proper for treatment.

The Unit is a ‘holding pen’ where medical staff decide whether or not to admit patients to the hospital. While the Unit’s concept is admirable, the loss of an entire pre-operative ward and the diffusion of its specialist staff overshadows the possible benefits of the Unit.

There has been little transparency about the problems and mounting costs of this Unit from the beginning.

In August last year the Unit was touted at $2.5 million, "to prevent cancelled operations and overcrowding", according to Hospital PR.

Less than three weeks ago, when Health Minister King opened the Unit, it was headlined as costing $3.25 million.

To climb from $3.25 million to $12 million in three weeks is astonishing!

Between August last year and September this year figures released to the public have gone everywhere. Somehow by May this year the original $2.5 million had become $5.5 million when problems with the foundations hoisted the cost to an "expected" $7.8 million. But it was "still on time, and on budget" according to the health board's
Chief Operating Officer and Minister of Health's husband Ray Lind.

By July the foundation work had pushed the likely costs to nearly $10 million, and even the Board Chairman was worried, pleading unbelievably “a lack of knowledge" about foundation stability.

Yet in 1995, an eminent geologist, Professor Gage, produced a very full report identifying the unstable nature of the site and its unsuitability for such construction. Such corporate amnesia is unforgivable in the face of the expenditure of public money on "bricks and mortar" at this level.

Nor was such information difficult of access. Geological maps are readily available showing the ground weaknesses in that area; one appearing in a recent Saturday morning paper. For all the expense, the Unit is still on unsafe ground! Indeed the only public health structure on solid ground in the area are the rate-free, rent-free, purpose-built, Ferro-concrete structures, fully warrant-of-fitnessed and fully abandoned on the
Napier hill hospital trust site, immune from seismic liquefaction, flooding, or tsunami!

By September 9th the Unit's costs were being presented as $7.8 million. Just three weeks later these costs had remarkably deflated to $3.25 million, to resurface in another three weeks conveniently on the safe side of the board elections at a staggering $12 million.

The deathly silence of the twin-city Labour MP's is as predictable as it is outrageous. Perhaps they have become numbed by the unfolding public health disasters in service delivery and management here. Perhaps, like the Minister of health, and her husband, they just like their positions and incomes.

All of this money, no matter how it is presented, is Public Health money taken from taxes. It is money that is unavailable to treat those needing public health, and the architects of this debacle, including the Minister of Health's husband, richly need to be held to account.

This situation needs to be subjected to public enquiry, urgently.

Dave Taggart; Spokesperson,

Napier Public Health Action Group Inc.


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