Lower Hutt’s mayor fears the closure of a major hospital block could spell the end for some medical services in the city.
The Hutt Valley District Health Board on Tuesday announced Hutt Hospital’s Heretaunga Block – the hospital’s main building – was earthquake prone and plans were under way to move patients out of the building over time.
Barry said he understood the health and safety issues, but was shocked the announcement of the gradual closure was not accompanied by a full commitment to the hospital.
“I want to be absolutely clear: today we have learned the main building at Hutt Hospital will close, and there are absolutely no plans to rebuild or remediate the site to secure health services into the future.
* National stocktake shows Nelson Hospital building in worst condition of all
* Health workers fear violence as police deliver more people to hospital emergency department
* Auckland’s North Shore Hospital sets aside whole building for coronavirus patients
* Taranaki Base Hospital confirms some buildings are earthquake prone
“Once beds, specialist services, and staff leave the Hutt for elsewhere, I’m deeply concerned they may never come back. Today may well represent the long term removal of tertiary health services in the Hutt Valley.”
The building houses the outpatients unit, maternity and post-natal services, the children’s ward, general surgery and gynaecology, and the medical ward. The Emergency Department, operating theatres and intensive care unit are in a separate building.
The Heretaunga Block houses 79% of the beds at the Hospital, and makes up 25% of the overall hospital bed capacity in the region, he said.
Barry called on the government and Health New Zealand (which will take over the buildings and services from the district health board in six weeks) to commit to a full rebuild at the site and a guaranteed return of the services.
In a memo to staff sent at lunchtime on Tuesday, which Stuff has seen, a seismic assessment of the Heretaunga Block shows the building “would be considered earthquake prone under law”.
It’s understood board members were first told of the issue last Friday, when a matter was urgently tabled and discussed behind closed doors. Staff are understood to have first learned of the issues on Tuesday in the memo, from chief executive Fionnagh Dougan.
DHB chief executive Fionnagh Dougan in a statement to media, said an initial assessment found the building would require extensive remedial work to get it up to acceptable levels, which would be disruptive to patients.
“Instead, we will be looking at how we can move patients and services out of the building as well as examining what alternative arrangements might work for our communities,” Dougan said.
The DHB was, therefore, planning to shift patients and services out of the building so care could continue.
Expert engineering advice has advised “the risk to people while we take our next steps is low” and the building performed well in the Seddon and Kaikōura quakes.
Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHBs would work with neighbouring DHBs, the Ministry of Health as well as the incoming Health New Zealand and Māori Health Authority to look at options and the next steps, Dougan said.
“We will also consult and engage with staff and providers and the Hutt Valley Board will recommend to the interim agencies that they prioritise any alternative in a way that ensures that the Hutt Valley community continues to have access to quality, safe and equitable health care,” Dougan said.
In the meantime, services will continue to be delivered from the Heretaunga Block and people can continue to access healthcare at Hutt Hospital as they normally would, she said.
The DHB has several years to bring the 40-year-old building up to code.
The Heretaunga Wing was officially opened in 1982 by then Governor-General Sir David Beattie.
Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy, who is also the deputy chairperson of the Hutt Valley District Health Board, said he was confident services would not be affected over the coming months.
“Ideally this wouldn’t have happened. You have to abide by the building code change and these issues have to be addressed.
“From here it is about making the right decisions so that the hospital can continue to deliver its services with as little disruption as possible.”
He expected that the services would be restored at the hospital once work to address the problem was complete.
Hutt South MP Ginny Andersen said the Hutt Valley community needed to know as soon as possible if a full rebuild was required.
“I’m 100% committed to getting it back up to standard whatever it takes.”
She said the government was committed to ensuring the Hutt Valley would retain hospital facilities that were at least as good as those it currently had.
Remutaka MP Chris Hipkins said there would be disruption in the short term, but concurred with Andersen that the government was committed to maintaining hospital services in the valley.
“We need to look at all options regarding remediation or replacement of the Heretaunga Block.
“There is no plan to reduce the level of hospital care provided in the Hutt Valley. The issues identified with the Heretaunga Block have not changed that.”
National’s Hutt South-based MP Chris Bishop said the news was concerning for the Hutt Valley community.
“We’re looking at a massive chunk of resources out of action of the Hutt and the Wellington region.”
He would be following up with the DHB about how they planned to deal with the situation.
Maternity service solution to be tabled
Hutt Valley DHB board member Prue Lamason said the issue “was huge” and confirmed most board members found out for the first time on Friday.
“If the building is quake prone, which means it’s under 33% of code, that’s really serious. Something has to be done. But it’ll be done bit by bit.”
Lamason was confident the DHB would handle the transition, but was concerned about what it would mean for expectant mums, given the only place for women to give birth in Hutt Valley was in the hospital’s maternity ward. Ongoing issues have plagued Hutt maternity services for years.
She and fellow board member Richard Stein intended to table a motion at the next – and final – board meeting in June asking the DHB to take over the Te Awakairangi birthing unit nearby. The privately owned unit closed last year and is sitting empty.
The pair had tried and tried to get the motion approved in the past but it had been repeatedly voted down, Lamason said.