Princess Margaret Hospital decision demand linked to election

Princess Margaret Hospital in Cashmere. PHOTO: MARTIN HUNTER

Health board members have accused the Government of rushing a decision on the future of services at The Princess Margaret Hospital, in order to announce it before the election.

An emergency meeting of Canterbury District Health Board members was called this month to approve a plan to relocate the last mental health services still based at the hospital.

CDHB members say the business case was put to them at about 9am on August 11, and they were asked to approve it by noon that day.

Board member Anna Crighton, who has served three terms on the board, said she had never seen a significant decision “rushed through” so fast.

When asked if she believed a decision was rushed because of the election, she said “the process alone would indicate that.”

A decision on the future of the services is expected before the election on September 23.

The CDHB has refused to release the report or the decision made at the meeting, as it was “public excluded”. That was so the CDHB could “carry on without prejudice or disadvantage, negotiations”, a spokeswoman said.

Dr Crighton said she “not happy” with the process, but agreed to have the meeting because she was concerned about the future for vulnerable patients if the service was kept at the hospital.

Most CDHB services based at the The Princess Margaret Hospital were moved to Burwood Hospital in June last year.

In November last year, the CDHB put a business case to the Ministry of Health outlining a plan to move the mental health services, but it was not approved.

Fellow board member Jo Kane said she was “furious” about the way the process had been handled.

Board member Andrew Dickerson said he would not give a view on whether or not the process was “politically motivated”, but said he was deeply concerned about it.

But board member David Morrell disagreed, saying the board had previously done a lot of background work on the issue, so he was comfortable with the way it was handled.

When The Star asked Health Minister Jonathan Coleman for his response yesterday, he replied that “given it’s election time I’m unsurprised by these comments.”

He has previously described Ms Kane as “anti-government”, after she called him “lazy” in an interview.

Dr Coleman did not answer questions from The Star yesterday about whether he was involved in setting the deadline for the decision, and whether he planned to make an announcement about it before the election.

Ministry of Health DHB funding and planning chief adviser John Hazeldine said the initial indicative business case could not be progressed because it “did not cover all the information required,” including a funding source.

He said the current facilities at the hospital were “highly unsatisfactory”, and the ministry was progressing the process as quickly as possible.