The nearly $1 billion price tag and detailed plans for the redevelopment of a Whangārei hospital announced today brought relief to Northland’s health leadership.
The government has increased funding from a reserved total of $572 million to $759 million for Phase 1 alone, approved by the cabinet this week.
It said Phase 2 would likely cost another $200 million, but that money would be finalized closer to the time.
The news was met with applause and waiata at a gathering on site today.
The hospital has one [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/in-depth/454808/whangarei-hospital-leaky-roofs-dodgy-lifts-waiting-lists-and-covid-19-s-here
litany of problems]including raw sewage that leaked down the inside of walls last year.
The redevelopment plans include an acute care building with a new emergency department with three times more space, a cardiac monitoring unit and 10 phase 1 operating rooms, as well as modernized intensive care facilities.
The children’s health unit will include a whānau house and emergency shelter for families with children.
Subsequently, a new 158-bed tower is planned in Phase 2, with four medical and surgical wards and an acute assessment unit.
Dr. Nick Chamberlain, the director of the National Public Health Service of Te Whatu Ora, former CEO of Northland DHB, said he was “thrilled” and “delighted” by today’s funding.
“I think the case for it is indisputable.”
The hospital buildings had reached “retirement age” and this showed in the difficult working conditions for staff and the cramped, dilapidated wards used by patients, he said.
“Health and safety concerns for staff and our patients, the cost of ongoing maintenance and the inability to provide infection control and modern efficient care mean that a new hospital is the only solution.”
The plans and funding were a decade in the making — the first business case was submitted in 2015, Chamberlain said.
“Since then we’ve had ups and downs, denials and approvals, programs, indicative and detailed business cases. But at no point did anyone give up or say ‘this is too hard’.”
Te Tai Tokerau’s communities “with the highest population growth and highest health needs in Aotearoa New Zealand deserve better,” Chamberlain said.
He and other health leaders described the plans as the largest construction project in Northland in decades.
It was expected to employ 500 people, including carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
Whangārei Hospital serves more than 190,000 people. The population of Te Tai Tokerau is expected to reach 210,000 by 2030.
Health Minister Andrew Little said locals and staff had alerted him to the poor state of the hospital during a previous visit.
“They took me to see things in a hospital that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a hospital before. And when I talk about that, I mean the state of the hospital.
“And I had taken advice from others within the health bureaucracy who had been here, who had told me that ‘when we think about the next big hospital investment, the next big hospital development, it was Whangārei that was screaming for attention’.”
He saw “corridors on neighborhood blocks that were just in very, very bad shape.”
“I saw an ED struggling to cope with the question that was on it.”
He acknowledged that there was a lot to catch up on.
“If we want to have a facility that is fit for purpose for the next 30, 40, 50 years, we have to make that investment.”
He also hoped the project would avoid patients having to drive to Auckland for specialist care, particularly Māori.
Although the government has been heavily criticized for the large expenditures driving inflation, he said the redevelopment was “a long-term project”.
“Inflation comes in cycles, but this is about purchases, significant billing and a significant service base that goes along with it.
“The money put into this is buying goods and services to contribute to a long-term facility. I believe that’s the right thing to do at this point.”