More than two and a-half years on from their announcement, the promised birthing units for Central Otago and Wanaka are yet to be seen.
In November 2020, the then Southern District Health Board approved a recommendation to establish a primary birthing unit at Dunstan Hospital, near Clyde, and a second in Wanaka, seemingly ending what many women at the time described as a birthing Russian roulette.
The decision came after more than a year of calls for action and a series of births in ad-hoc conditions and with no pain relief for women.
In February last year, the proposed units were given a $7 million boost from the Ministry of Health, and the purchase of an Albert Town property, to be renovated for the Wanaka facility, was announced the following July.
It was expected about half of the 180-200 women in the area cared for by lead maternity midwives would use the facility which, after renovations, would incorporate one birthing room and three postnatal stay rooms.
The announcement was met with a mix of excitement and relief from the region’s midwives and expectant mothers.
Plans for the 550sq m Clyde unit were released to the public two months later, the developed designs revealing the facility would have two birthing rooms, postnatal stay rooms, a whanau room and a community space.
At the time, Te Whatu Ora Southern acting service manager primary maternity Hannah Gentile said there was community support for the plans and it was hoped tenders for building contractors would open towards the end of the year.
The Government Electronic Tender Service website shows tenders for building partners for the Clyde birthing unit opened on December 16 and were supposed to be open until March 1, 2023, but it appears the tender was cancelled.
Earlier this year, the Clyde facility was thrown into doubt when Te Whatu Ora Southern executive director of corporate services Nigel Trainor told the health select committee construction costs for the proposed primary birthing unit in Clyde had come in significantly higher than anticipated, and other options needed to be considered.
‘‘We are now looking at a B plan and potentially doing a similar thing to what we did in Wanaka,’’ Mr Trainor told the committee.
The health body had a property it was ‘‘potentially’’ going to look at, he said.
At the same time, Mr Trainor told the committee renovations on the Wanaka property were about to start — five months after it was hoped the new facility would open in ‘‘a few months’ time’’.
That was mid-March.
The News understands building consents for the Albert Town facility have not yet been lodged with the relevant consenting authority, the Queenstown Lakes District Council.
However, there had been ‘‘pre-application discussions’’, a council spokesman said.
Te Whatu Ora Southern director of midwifery Karen Ferraccioli confirmed a building consent for the Wanaka birthing unit would be lodged after the fire report, submitted last month, was approved.
The health authority had undertaken a ‘‘number of key pieces of work’’ in preparation for construction at the Wanaka primary birthing unit, Ms Ferraccioli said.
Initial plans were developed between August and October 2022, which included determining the use of each room, infection control measures and planning for digital, electrical, mechanical, heli-landing, emergency power supply and operational requirements, Ms Ferraccioli said.
A construction partner was selected after a tender process closed in January this year, with a detailed refit floor plan subsequently developed during February to May.
The floor plan included mechanical requirements, infection prevention and control measures, placement of hand basins, electrical rewiring, identification of nurse call and security systems, operational planning and ordering of necessary equipment including digital gear.
‘‘While it has taken us longer than anticipated to get to this point, the project is currently on track to be within budget. At this stage, we anticipate that the building will be open for use from early 2024,’’ she said.
Minor alterations would be made to the building’s layout during construction; the major work lay in refitting the building’s internal systems — rewiring, plumbing, fire, mechanical/ventilation and digital, along with the fit-out of the interior spaces.
‘‘Our top priority is to make sure the unit is operational as soon as possible. Our team is working tirelessly to bring an amazing fit-for-purpose primary birthing unit to Wanaka and its surrounding areas soon, and we can’t wait to share this exciting milestone with the community.’’
That is good news for Wanaka mothers, but their Central Otago counterparts still have a while to wait.
Attempts to procure a construction partner for the Clyde birthing unit were ‘‘unsuccessful’’, and a second round was expected to start late this month.
Feedback from the first round would be used to inform the tender, Ms Ferraccioli said.
An update on construction and completion times would be available once a contractor was secured.
Questions from The News regarding whether Te Whatu Ora still intended to build at the Dunstan Hospital site were left unanswered.
The Central Otago District Council confirmed a resource consent to construct a new primary birthing unit on the Dunstan hospital grounds was granted on October 10.
No building consent has been lodged.
‘‘We are committed to providing the best possible care to families and our team is working hard on developing a new modern fit-for-purpose primary birthing unit for our Central Otago community,’’ Ms Ferraccioli said.
‘‘In the meantime, the primary birthing unit in Alexandra remains open. The unit is now being operationally managed by Te Whatu Ora under the name Central Otago Maternity Unit.
‘‘The services provided by this unit will be relocated to Clyde when the new primary birthing unit for the area is opened. All staff will transfer to the new facility,’’ she said.