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The Future of Health Services in Buller

The Future of Health Services in Buller: Opinion Piece
from David Meates, Chief Executive, West Coast District Health Board

30 August 2012

Positive changes are ahead for health systems and the facilities out of which they’re delivered in Buller to improve health services for residents and make the area more attractive for health professionals to live and work in.

A key plank in the District Health Board’s plan is a new Integrated Family Health Centre (IFHC) for Buller. This will mean that we can bring together various health professionals including GPs, nurses and allied health workers such as physiotherapists, dentists, pharmacists, speech and occupational therapists into a single team located in one building. Rather than having to spend time referring patients to each other and between facilities, clinicians in the Buller will work together to get the right services delivered to patients in a seamless way. The integrated team will also include Maori health workers as Maori health is poorer in the Buller region than in the general population. This whole-team approach is an especially effective way of meeting the needs of those people who have complex or long term conditions.

The decision to proceed with an Integrated Family Health Centre was made after considerable consultation with the community, staff and health professionals. Following submissions and feedback, we received a clear mandate from the community, health professionals and other interested parties that we should locate the proposed Buller IFHC on a single site. The DHB Board concluded that the current Buller Hospital site was the best option for the Buller community because of factors including the site’s ease of access and its central location.

Our proposed new facility will include an IFHC, together with 10 medical beds and 20 hospital-level aged residential care beds. The proposed facility has a reduced number of rest home beds from the number originally envisaged, because the O’Conor Trust has advised us of their intention to pursue the further development of rest home facilities at its own site.

The District Health Board is disappointed in the O’Conor Trusts’ decision because we believe it represents a fragmentation of health services in the Buller region. We had hoped the Trust would move its rest home services to the Buller Hospital site in order that all health services could be located together. We were also hopeful that the Trust might have considered alternative uses for its own site, including complementary services such as independent living accommodation for people that do not need to be in a rest home. This approach would have meant that Buller residents had access to a greater range of aged care services to choose from. It would also have meant that the DHB’s commitment to helping people remain living in the community for longer was better supported.

We have held a number of meetings with the O’Conor Trust. We remain open to further discussions with the Trust, but we are now moving forward with the development of the Buller facility to ensure that we are able to provide the health services that the community has asked for.

Last week we sent the business case for the Buller IFHC to the Capital Investment Committee [CIC] for its consideration. The CIC is a sub-committee of the National Health Board and prioritises and allocates health funding throughout New Zealand. We expect to be speaking with the Committee about the business case during October, and we will keep the Buller community informed of progress.

As most Buller residents know, recruiting health professionals to Buller is an ongoing challenge. One way of attracting GPs, nurses and allied health professionals is to change the way we provide health services so they are professionally rewarding and challenging. Such changes cannot solely be based on improving the appeal to health professionals; they must also improve services for residents.

The health services currently on offer in Buller have a number of strengths that we will foster and retain. These include the commitment and skills of the local healthcare workforce, and experience gained over many years in developing innovative local solutions to rural health problems.

Overall, the West Coast District Health Board is confident that the plans for Buller represent an advance in health services that will concentrate on promoting good health as well as providing the right services to meet health needs. As far as is possible, the service will concentrate on allowing people to stay healthier, for longer, closer to their own homes.


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