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Oamaru people are being urged to get behind Winton woman Melissa Vining’s quest to build a charity hospital for people slipping through the cracks in the healthcare system.

The planned Southland Charity Hospital is part of the legacy left by Mrs Vining’s husband, Blair, who died of bowel cancer last year. The purpose of the hospital is to provide healthcare to anyone living south of the Waitaki who is unable to access care through either the private or public health systems.

“Our hospital won’t receive any government funding. It’s completely by the community, for the community,” Mrs Vining said.

“We’re totally reliant on southerners doing what they do best – just getting stuck in, getting on with things and taking care of the people that call our communities home.”

One way people can contribute is through the Buy a Brick campaign. People can buy a $100 brick, to be engraved and used to make up the pathway from the hospital car park to the building. About 75% of the bricks sold so far had been to people in the Southland region, and fewer than 10% to people in Otago, Mrs Vining said.

“Whether somebody hails from Dunedin, Oamaru, Alexandra, Stewart Island/Rakiura or Owaka, they will be able to call on the Southland Charity Hospital to meet the gaps in the healthcare access that impact all of our communities,” she said.

An initial target of $1 million is needed to start refurbishing a building donated by the Invercargill Licensing Trust, but the total build will cost $4.5m, with another $1m needed for the necessary equipment.

Mrs Vining said she was overwhelmed at first when her late husband raised the prospect of building the hospital. But she was constantly motivated by stories of the eople who contacted them.

“I hear their stories about how they are suffering because of their lack of access to the healthcare they need, particularly in regards to bowel cancer – which, if it is caught in the early stages, can be successfully treated and cured.

“I’m fuelled by my desire to prevent other families from being affected by this the way my family has been.”

The hospital will initially focus on providing colonoscopies, as this had been identified as the area with the most urgent need.

Mrs Vining said the prospect of her and Mr Vining’s vision becoming a reality soon was what “keeps her going”.

“It makes the slog – and it is a slog, it’s a huge amount of work – it brings me comfort to know that the sooner we get the hospital up and running, the sooner we will be able to help.

“We’ve sat with many people and heard their stories, which are absolutely harrowing. We’ve sat with exasperated medical professionals, distressed that their patients can’t access the care they clearly need.”

To be referred to the hospital, prospective patients must have been declined for investigative procedures and/or treatment by the Southern District Health Board, and be referred to the hospital by their doctor. They must also not have medical insurance or the financial ability to seek private medical help.