Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan has welcomed the establishment of an after-hours healthcare service at Dunstan Hospital, saying it will provide “the same service as before” but “by different people”.
The new service was confirmed in a joint statement this week from Central Otago Health Services Ltd (Cohsl), the operating company of Dunstan Hospital; Central Otago After Hours, the organisation that previously delivered the after-hours GP care; WellSouth; and the Southern District Health Board.
It will result in after-hours patients still triaged through the existing telephone service, then directed to a newly established Cohsl-operated after-hours centre at Dunstan Hospital if they need medical attention.
The centre will not be in the rooms in the hospital building previously used by GPs, but in a different area at the rear of the hospital. It will be clearly signposted.
The announcement follows a period of confusion and uncertainty for Central Otago residents, after the district’s after-hours health service had changed on November 1, when GPs stopped providing after-hours care between 10pm and 8am, citing financial and staffing issues.
Since then patients have still been receiving the telephone triage service, and were then advised to either visit their GP the following day or phone 111 for an ambulance, which would take them to the nearest hospital if necessary.
Mr Cadogan said the new system was “good news”.
“People now have the same service as they did before, but [delivered] by different people”.
Patients requiring care between 6pm and 8am should now call their daytime practice, as they usually would, and their call will be diverted to Homecare Medical Ltd, (HML), a national service contracted for telephone triaging and which is staffed by health professionals. Patients will then be advised if they can wait until the next day to see their GP, or be directed to the after-hours care at Dunstan Hospital. If a situation is life-threatening, phone 111.
He said he had attended various meetings between health providers about Central Otago’s after-hours service and “always felt that the goodwill in the room, and sense of responsibility to the community, would always lead us to find a sensible alternative for after-hours healthcare in Central”.
Mr Cadogan said there were some who would still like to see an emergency department established at Dunstan Hospital, but he understood the cost of it would “be phenomenal” and not justified by use.
The new service has also been welcomed by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, who said it was “no less than the people of the area deserve”.
“But let’s not forget, this overnight service is not a luxury, but something that most people expect to be able to access as of right.”
The new system would be monitored, the joint statement said.
“Central Otago faces unique challenges with a growing population and high visitor numbers during the holiday seasons in summer and winter and, with this in mind, we’ll jointly monitor the solution and work closely to ensure the arrangement continues to be appropriate.”