Southerners are gutted to hear of a five percent funding cut to their network of rural community hospitals in Oamaru, Ranfurly, Dunstan, Balclutha and Gore.
And if that’s not bad enough, there will be reviews of health services and no increases for changing costs or population. What that means is that if the population of your town increases, there won’t be any corresponding increase to health funding.
Hospitals are still working out what impact this will have on services and each hospital will be affected differently. What we do know is health services are under threat and so are many jobs.
At the same time, Southern District Health Board (SDHB) has announced plans to contract out and privatise its food service, with frozen meals being driven down from Auckland, in a further attempt to save money that threatens local jobs. We can see no sense in that whatsoever!
So why is all this happening? Southern DHB’s financial situation is pretty grim – they are $27 million in the red this financial year and are predicted to be at a $42 million financial deficit next year. When DHBs are squeezed this tight, something has to give. This time it’s the health of our rural communities, not to mention their nutritional needs!
While we don’t know all the reasons for their financial woes, or why they are so much worse off than other DHBs, we do know that a contributing factor is the year in, year out, underfunding of health services in New Zealand [pdf].
It’s this Government’s seventh budget this week, and they’ll be announcing funding for health for the next year. If they get it wrong, we’re looking at losing local jobs and local health services. Without more money coming in, it’s hard to see how Southern DHB will be able to preserve all the health services the population needs.
It’s not fair that valued local services, through no fault of their own, have to bear the brunt of Southern DHB’s deficit. NZNO will be working constructively with the affected rural hospitals to save services and protect member’s jobs. Not only will these cuts put patients’ health at risk, but removing skilled jobs from the regional economy impacts on the region’s long term financial health.
This ends up costing the Government more in the long run through health, social services, and other agencies. Southerners understand this, and we will be backing them all the way to find healthy and sustainable solutions to the District Health Board’s financial crisis.
Watch this space for NZNO’s response, and updates on the Southland and Otago rural hospital network plan for dealing with the cuts.