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Dunedin Health March Attracts Thousands Ahead Of Review

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Peter Chin
Peter Chin

Wellington, Aug 6 NZPA - Thousands of people marched through central Dunedin today in a protest about the potential loss of neurosurgery services from the region, ahead of a report to the Health Minister this year.

Both Christchurch and Dunedin provide neurosurgical services, but with the five South Island district health boards (DHBs) agreeing the South Island would be best served by having one hospital providing them, one will be forced to give up.

Dunedin mayor Peter Chin, who led the protest with Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt, told NZPA that about 10,000 people attended the "awesome" march.

"It was a solidarity march -- I suppose it's a protest against change, but it's solidarity in terms of Otago-Southland, in terms of the desire to retain neurosurgery services in Dunedin."

Residents are concerned about the increased travelling time a move north would mean for patients, and the distance from local family and friends.

The lunchtime protest marched from the Octagon to Dunedin Hospital, where medical staff joined to help encircle the hospital.

More than 1000 people attended a public meeting in Dunedin last night, and passed a resolution demanding retention of the services.

"I think we have every chance," Mr Chin said.

"He (Health Minister Tony Ryall) needs to take notice of the will of the people as expressed in this way, in the meeting yesterday, in the countless emails and letters that I know he's receiving."

The Director-General of Health has convened an expert panel to consider the issues, and Mr Chin said the terms of reference were being finalised.

Mr Ryall said South Island DHBs had agreed they needed a "whole of South Island" neurological service.

"They can't agree on how many surgeons will be in Christchurch and how many will be in Dunedin," he said.

"That is why we have an independent panel which will report to the Director General of Health in October."

Labour's Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson, a former health minister, took part in the march and told NZPA that having two sites was the only way to safely deliver neurosurgical services in the South Island.

"Things should never have reached this silly stage," he said.

"It would be ideal if there could be one service with two sites so the six neurosurgeons, four in Christchurch and two in Dunedin, could support each other.

"The onus now is squarely on Mr Ryall to signal that one service using two-site delivery is the Government's preferred option, and ask his panel to provide him with details about how that might be implemented."

Mr Hodgson said that instead of acting, Mr Ryall had shovelled the situation onto the Director General of Health.

Mr Ryall said in response to an oral question in Parliament yesterday that he "would take a lot of convincing that there should not be neurosurgical services in Dunedin".

Neurosurgery is the medical speciality concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of disorders that affect the entire nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.

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