Issue #953

LWB Issue 953

Health care: we can expect better, much better

by Queenstown Lakes Mayor Glyn Lewers

Access to key health services is a long-standing concern for residents across inland Otago.

Despite years of our councils advocating to health agencies, we’re yet to see sufficient progress on addressing the lack of investment in local health infrastructure.

As our communities continue to experience rapid growth, the need to shift focus from Invercargill and Dunedin toward parts of the region in serious need, has become acute. A lack of real investment into quality services is stymieing our districts’ development.

The entry of private hospitals into the district demonstrates there is significant need but does not substitute having publicly funded services. Equal access to healthcare for everyone is a fundamental right.

I appreciate the essential and important work of frontline health care staff in our districts, and I understand our primary health agency Te Whatu Ora has limited resources, but our community can and should expect better.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan and I have jointly written to Te Whatu Ora to reiterate our district’s pressing needs.

Much of the data Te Whatu Ora seems to base its planning on is dated and out of step with our rapidly growing population.

Add the pressure of the country’s largest tourism industry, and there’s a slam dunk case for substantive new investment.

We’re asking Te Whatu Ora to work with us collaboratively and with urgency.

Let’s look at the numbers: Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago’s combined resident-only population is currently 79,000, which is similar in size to Palmerston North. Visitors to the region increases the population, and need, substantially.

Furthermore, Queenstown Lakes is New Zealand’s fastest growing area and has had a population increase of 8% in the last year alone. For comparison, our fastest growing city is Hamiliton which grew by 3.4%. Central Otago is the third fastest growing district nationally.

With facilities several hours drive away, it’s not something our communities can afford to wait any longer for. It’s simply unacceptable that 70% of New Zealanders who live two hours or more from a base hospital, live in inland Otago.

Those travel costs are significant for hard working individuals and families who often need to travel multiple times and spend time away from friends and supporters to get necessary care.

Mayor Tim and myself have been holding meetings to address these issues since the start of my term. We’ll continue the important and necessary conversations with other advocates for our districts including our MPs, iwi, and health service providers.

This won’t be easy, it never has been. We respect the challenges faced by Te Whatu Ora, and the government, but it’s time to stop kicking this can down the road and to at least begin planning a sound and consistent health investment strategy for our region.

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