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Changing times . . . Friends of Oamaru Hospital secretary Pat Avis outside Oamaru Hospital. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Friends of Oamaru Hospital is to be disestablished at a special meeting at the hospital on Wednesday.

The fate of the group, which has 32 members, will be decided after it was recommended at its recent annual meeting that the group be wound up.

Friends of Oamaru Hospital secretary Pat Avis said the group was formed in May 1990, before Oamaru Hospital was funded by the Southern District Health Board and operated by Waitaki District Health Services, a council-controlled organisation.

At the time, the threat of cuts to services was very real.

“This group was formed by Rodney Grater and a group of concerned people who felt ‘if they think they’re going to close our hospital ..’

“We didn’t want them to keep on whittling away until there was nothing left. It was funded as a lobby group, if anything. Its purpose was to lobby the Government to make sure we keep a good standard of medical care here in Oamaru.”

In January 1993, an estimated 13,000 people marched down Thames St to protest the loss of services at the hospital.

It led to promises of services being retained and, in some cases, improved – but this was reneged upon in 1994 when the Southern Regional Health Authority announced plans to cut surgical and other services.

Community groups, including Friends of Oamaru Hospital, then combined with the council to deal with the Government to separate the Waitaki district and Oamaru Hospital health funding from the rest of Otago. That led to the establishment of WDHS.

Friends of Oamaru Hospital had played a major part in the retention of services at the hospital, such as its diabetes service, but was no longer able to actively support the hospital as it once did, Mrs Avis said.

“Back then [1990s], there was a financial investment because people donated to make sure it kept going. We can’t support the hospital financially any more.

“The whole concept of the health system has changed. We’re few in number and we are older people on fixed incomes and it’s very difficult to carry out the sort of lobbying we were able to 27 years ago.”

The group has also raised money for the hospital to purchase non-government-funded equipment.

“At the time, it really served the purpose of the day,” Mrs Avis said.

Under its constitution, the group’s finances, which total less than $5000, are required to be transferred to a “like-minded organisation”. Mrs Avis said that would likely be Oamaru Hospital.

The open meeting takes place at 10.30am on Wednesday at the hospital’s meeting room.