'Babies are dying' – antiquated Lakes hospital dominates election debate

by Peter Newport - Sep 28, 2023

A nurse from the Lakes District Hospital in Queenstown forced a local election debate into harsh reality on Thursday evening (Sep 28) with a claim that babies are dying due to the antiquated, inadequate state of facilities there and many occasions when lifesaving medical helicopters can’t fly due to weather or logistics issues.

Local nurse Pam Shaw highlighted severe problems at the stretched Lakes District Hospital

Nurse Pam Shaw told the debate audience that she’d been a nurse at the hospital for over 20 years and the forecast for local population growth that should have already triggered a new base hospital had been “blown out of the water.”

She told the debate audience that one of the baby fatalities she knew of involved one of her nursing colleagues as the mother of the child. The audience also heard that many of the doors were too narrow for patient's beds to get through and that the hospital was generally outdated and a danger to public health.

Four candidates at the Queenstown Business debate all attempted to address the dramatic hospital point made in the middle of an otherwise predictable and civilised debate where party lines were largely repeated with a local flavour.

In many ways local MP Joseph Mooney had the most difficulty answering Pam Shaw’s point, stating the cost of a new local hospital for the Southern Lakes was not affordable even though he was “passionate” for a local facility. Mr Mooney could offer neither a plan or a promise for a new local hospital, even though he acknowledged it was a key local concern.

ACT candidate Todd Stephenson, freshly returned to New Zealand from a long stint working in Australia, said that he thought the answer could lie in successful public private partnerships that he had seen work across the Tasman. He also referenced a model used in Canada where pension funds make the initial investment into new hospitals with ownership then gradually transferred to the Government.

Green Party Candidate Dave Kennedy, speaking via a video connection due to the fact that he recently caught Covid, told the audience that his wife is a GP and that the country had suffered too long from an inferior health system and a lack of investment.

Labour candidate Simon McCallum disagreed with the public/private funding argument made by ACT’s Todd Stephenson saying the health system should not rely on private enterprise operators as they could “extort” money for their own benefit … he also said that health insurance carried similar risks. He did however say that the current hospital situation in Queenstown was unacceptable.

Simon McCallum (Labour), Joseph Mooney (National) and Todd Stephenson (ACT) at tonight's debate - Dave Kennedy (Green Party) attended by video.

Apart from the hospital issue the candidates agreed that local infrastructure needed better funding with Labour’s Simon McCallum and the Green’s Dave Kennedy backing a tourist tax.

On the vexed issue of how to fix the local housing crisis Joseph Mooney said more land needed to be made available along with more competition in the supply of building materials and more homeowners getting property onto the rental market as well as community housing initiatives and build to rent programmes. ACT’s Todd Stephenson favoured getting rid of red tape around consenting while Dave Kennedy said that the Green party would invest in state housing.

All candidates seemed to agree that the recent crypto water crisis in Queenstown pointed to the need for central funding of water infrastructure … with Simon McCallum calling the costs “extreme” and beyond the reach of local government.

Joseph Mooney said that he was against regulating Airbnb but that he was in favour of greater investment in more roads, bridges and power transmission lines.

When asked when they had most recently travelled on a public transport bus, ACT, the Greens and Labour all had strong track records with Joseph Mooney somewhat bashfully admitting that only his children had used the bus recently.

Simon McCallum got in some body blows against National with a reference to Winston Peter’s having a track record of an “abusive relationship” within Government and pointing out an impending energy crisis due to many of the hyrdo dams nearing the end of their lives due to silt.

The Crown Pub was the debate venue, avoiding some of the formality of more familiar town hall events

The audience at the Crown Pub became animated on certain issues with excessive Government spending on unnecessary services being a primary trigger point.

The Green’s Dave Kennedy, whose wife is from the UK, used the English Lake District as an example for Queenstown of the need, and the practicality, of restricting growth in order to preserve both local character and natural beauty.

Generally the evening was good natured, if somewhat sparsely attended, but left everyone present with the inescapable view that the Lakes District Hospital was literally a life and death problem that needs to be urgently addressed – regardless of which candidate or party is voted in.



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