Public consultation on Central Lakes maternity services has opened, but the Southern District Health Board is warning it may not meet its proposed deadline of June 30.
SDHB announced this Tuesday that they are “inviting feedback about the future configuration of primary maternity facilities in the fast-growing Central Otago/ Wānaka area.” To put the possibility of a primary birthing unit in Wānaka on the table is a significant leap for SDHB who has danced around the subject but only ever committed to the Maternity Hub and teleclinic services.
Acknowledging that the best configuration of primary birthing facilities in the area has been “the subject of a lot of discussion in recent years,” SDHB executive director strategy, primary and community Lisa Gestro said that “While we have a good understanding of the issues involved, we are very keen to listen to the community in a structured way and get this process right.”
According to Gestro, SDHB, the Central Lakes Locality Network and key stakeholders will work together to develop “potential options,” for public consultation.
This vague process has an even vaguer timeline: “We expect to propose some options by Easter and make decisions around the middle of the year. However, it is important we take the time that is needed to ensure the outcomes are the right ones for women and families.” The proposals were initially intended to be publicised by March, consulted on until the end of April, and a final decision made by June 30.
MP for Waitaki Jacqui Dean has criticised the board’s “complete lack of urgency in providing acceptable maternity services through the Wānaka and Upper Clutha districts.”
Dean has previously voiced frustration with the board’s lack of progress in providing a much-needed maternity services hub in Wānaka, which was first promised in August 2018 and - after several setbacks — is currently due to open in April 2020.
“After following this issue closely for the past two years and being riddled with disappointments and broken promises, it’s safe to say my confidence in the Southern District Health Board’s ability to deliver anything in the near future is at an all-time low.” Dean also referred to the National Party’s promise in September 2019 to provide half the money for a birthing unit in Wanaka if elected next year.
In the meantime, the Maternity Hub at 21E Gordon Road still has no signs of life, and the empty carcass with bare concrete floor and walls suggests no work has progressed at all. However, a source on site who does not wish to be named said, the architect's plans have been approved by the Body Corporate of the building and to his knowledge, they are with council awaiting consent. He also stated that whilst the fit-out looks quite simple, it needs to be hospital-grade so may not be overly straightforward in construction. To be open by April, would be "optimistic" by his judgment.
When asked for an update on the progress of the unit, SDHB could not provide comment at the time of going to press.
Public feedback on the proposed primary birthing unit is welcome at www.engage.southernhealth.nz/maternity.