Busy hospital battling

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Continuing population growth in Central Otago and the Queenstown Lakes district is increasing Dunstan Hospital use and stretching hospital resources but management and staff say they are coping, for now.
But more funding is needed to cope with the expected increasing demand for services, Dunstan Hospital manager Karyn Penno says.
‘‘We’re just keeping ahead of it but it’s not going to be long before we’re not able to any more.’’
Ms Penno said daily ward occupancy at Dunstan continued to increase and had gone from an average of 16 patients five years ago to ‘‘the low 20s’’ now.
The hospital has 24 beds and the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) funds 80% of that: 19.2 beds.
Demand for all other hospital services was also ‘‘trending upwards’’, including demand for district nursing services and outpatient services, Ms Penno said.
The hospital had just been through its busiest period and last week had a record day on which there were 16 patient discharges and eight admissions, while there were also 25 patients in the ward.
The ward had been ‘‘over capacity’’, with between 24 and 30 patients, for several weeks and there was no sign of that abating, Ms Penno said.
Winter was the busiest time of year on the ward every year, other than a two-week period in summer, when Central Otago’s population peaked, but this winter had been ‘‘phenomenally busy’’.
Resources were further strained by an influenza-like virus that struck the hospital last month.
Between July 12 and 27, 11 patients and 25 staff were sick and the hospital’s ward was closed to visitors other than immediate family for a period of 10 days.
The outbreak had severely strained hospital resources, Ms Penno said.
More casual staff were brought in and other staff had gone ‘‘above and beyond’’ by offering to work on their usual rostered days off.
Ms Penno said the demand for Dunstan’s services was expected to keep increasing, as the population in Central Otago and Wanaka grew.
Management and staff had coped with a tight budget last financial year through costcutting measures and other initiatives, including collaborative ones that added value to Dunstan’s resources by pooling them with those of other organisations.
The management was grateful for an increase in funding from the SDHB for this financial year after a cut last year, but, in real terms, the increase had only brought Dunstan back to its funding level of two years ago, and more was needed, Ms Penno said.
SDHB executive director of planning and funding Sandra Boardman said the SDHB and Dunstan’s operating company, Central Otago Health Services Ltd (COHSL), had worked together on a five-year agreement which provided a funding increase that reflected the growing and ageing population in the area.
‘‘Funding provided is for both the provision of a range of services at Dunstan Hospital and for continued progress of a number of collaborative service improvement initiatives which will deliver improved access and care closer to home for the Central Otago and Lakes rural communities,’’ Mrs Boardman said.
‘‘These initiatives may mean more services are delivered in rural hospital settings, or may mean increased service provision in community settings, including patients’ homes.
‘‘We are working on ensuring appropriate and innovative health-service provision followed by determining how funding will be provided.’’