By: Dr Nick Chamberlain

Dr Nick Chamberlain, the chief executive of the Northland DHB

Northland’s health system paints a very similar picture to Auckland’s if not a little worse.

It is also at breaking point from underfunding and population growth.

On top of that, Northland is the only district health board that has had its funding capped and is significantly under its population-based share of funding for the past three years.

An independent report the DHB commissioned late last year validates this, and one graph in particular starkly illustrates how differently Northland has been treated to other health boards, with its fair share of funding well below all others.

The $29.5 million shortfall over the past three years is really starting to bite, and this year Northland DHB will post an $8.4m deficit to try to provide even a minimum level of safe care.

If our funding weren’t capped, we should be able to break even.

The Ministry of Health and our minister have received this report and we are confident they understand our situation. But the growth Northland is experiencing, both in its population and in the demand for health services, is unprecedented.

Northland’s population growth for this year is 2.37 per cent and our official population figures for June 30 this year are nearly 179,320 – an increase of 4150 on last year and the second highest DHB increase in New Zealand.

Over the past 10 years we have grown by 17.2 per cent, with much more rapid growth recently. There was a big jump in our official population following the 2013 Census.

Northland DHB ran a Census campaign in the media with some success.

Invariably, Statistics NZ estimates have turned out to be less than actual population figures for Northland so it’s vital that all Northlanders are counted this time in the Census.

Although times are incredibly tough, we would be in a much worse position if we didn’t “find so many missed Northlanders”.

Our population growth, and the fact that we are either first or second for poverty, rurality, percentage Maori, per cent increase in births and percentage over 65 years (19 per cent vs Auckland’s 12 per cent), has resulted in Northland Health Services struggling to cope on a daily basis.

Our Whangarei emergency department (ED) presentations have increased 14 per cent over the past three years and the increase in hospitalisations is increasing only slightly less.

This considerable growth puts unfair demands on our patients, their whanau and our excellent hard-working staff.

Finally, Whangarei Hospital is among the oldest in New Zealand, with a large portion of our buildings 65 years old.

They have few single rooms for isolation, low floor to floor heights, poor ventilation, and no air conditioning – which is intolerable for staff and patients during our very warm summer months.

Most importantly, because of how they were built, we cannot reconfigure these buildings to support the delivery of modern models of care, the sort of care and conditions our patients and staff deserve.

We are planning the rebuild of Whangarei Hospital and hoping to have this completed within six to eight years.

It is vital Northland is supported and prioritised for this investment because it feels as if we have been neglected for far too long.

Perhaps the Economic Development Fund can help speed this process up for us.

Dr Nick Chamberlain is the chief executive of the Northland District Health Board

Source: Northern Advocate


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