Future of medical school assured

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A recent Strategic Services report on options for the delivery of health services from a rebuilt Dunedin Hospital has caused a flurry of comment from stakeholders about the possible downgrading of services.
Past and present academic staff have expressed concern that reference to configuring wards around a generalist model meant the hospital’s tertiary status would be at risk, and that anecdotal comments about tensions between the university and the DHB were overblown.
So what is the Government view on all of this? It is quite simple. On this Government’s watch the University of Otago’s Dunedin School of Medicine is staying put. I have said this previously and the Prime Minister unequivocally confirmed that position in a radio interview during a visit to Dunedin in August.
The Government is also 100% committed to the redevelopment of Dunedin Hospital to ensure the local community has access to a 21st-century hospital which meets the community’s needs.
It is understandable that, given our history of having to defend services in the face of a static and ageing population, the public is nervous whenever there is a review of service delivery. The report, written by consultants that appear not to be empathetic with that history, has canvassed a range of options for service delivery. This is both necessary and appropriate as we are configuring buildings to provide services over a more than 50-year period.
The best example of why this is necessary is how health services have changed since the current building was completed 35 years ago. In 1981, day surgery was hardly performed, length of stay in hospital was much longer, less invasive procedures, like interventional cardiology, were not undertaken, cancer treatment services were delivered quite differently and psychiatric services were modelled around institutional care. It’s hard to predict what advances may occur in the next two generations but it is important to do so, however challenging that might be.
What is not open to challenge is this Government’s commitment to the university’s Health Science Campus and the School of Medicine. That school has been nurturing future doctors for 140 years and is the cornerstone of the range of health science teaching and research. That teaching can’t be comprehensive without specialist services being provided at Dunedin Hospital.
In the inevitable but frustrating period between that commitment being made, the details of the hospital redevelopment being finalised and the project commencing the Government’s opponents will challenge our commitment to it. Let there be no misunderstanding; the hospital will be rebuilt and the Dunedin School of Medicine will remain.