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Ready for action . . . Gillian Bartrum paints a placard in preparation for Saturday's Waitaki Community Hospital Action Group protest, being held as a result of concerns about staffing and financial issues at Oamaru Hospital. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Despite an announcement that no permanent Oamaru Hospital staff will lose their jobs as a result of the “proposal for change” review, a scheduled protest march will go ahead this weekend.

Monday’s announcement came after a consultation period as part of Waitaki District Health Services’ (WDHS) proposed staffing restructure and changes to the layout of Oamaru Hospital.

Consultation closed in late March, after it was extended by about two weeks, which resulted in 15 submissions from staff and nine submissions from ”community groups” representing 185 community members.

WDHS chief executive officer Ruth Kibble said permanent staff levels were expected to be retained under the modified review.

“Some roles will change, but the changes will optimise the balance between operational and clinical leadership resources,” Mrs Kibble said.

“These changes will place us in the strongest position to continue to deliver health services for the people of Waitaki now, and into the future.

“Staff are our most important asset and in order to keep our patients safe we must have staff that have the right skill mix, at the appropriate staffing levels working within a workplace, that lives up to our organisational values.”

Mrs Kibble said staff and management had worked together during the consultation process and a collaborative approach going forward would help transform the organisation into “a resilient and sustainable one”.

Staff would now also have the opportunity to expand their knowledge and education in the health sector through the national qualifications framework and the completion of workplace-based training, Mrs Kibble said.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said said he believed the new structure would improve clinical and financial sustainability.

“It is important that we continue to ensure the sustainability of our health services for the people of Waitaki,” Mr Kircher said.

“The council, as shareholder on behalf of the community, was keen to see good community consultation during this process.

“We wanted to ensure that people understood the aims of the review, which were to find solutions to improve both clinical and financial sustainability into the future and I believe the new structure will achieve that.”

Waitaki Community Hospital Action Group member Marcelane Ballantyne said although it was pleasing staff would stay employed, the action group still had reservations about the latest announcement and tomorrow’s protest march would go ahead as planned.

“We’re marching to ensure services within the Waitaki community are secured now and into the future,” she said.

“The community needs reassurances that services won’t go on the chopping block under the restructure.

“We’re marching with the aim of gaining transparency around the financial and managerial infrastructure at Oamaru Hospital.”

Oamaru Hospital, like many in New Zealand, had been running at a deficit for too long, she said.

“We’re marching for safer staffing and evidence of proper frameworks to recruit, train and retain doctors, nurses and support staff.”

Ms Ballantyne said throughout New Zealand there was a shortage of generalist rural hospital doctors – and questions remained around how the WDHS board planned to attract doctors who wanted to work, train and stay in Oamaru long-term to alleviate the high cost of locums.

“Given the exodus of nursing staff that has occurred since the release of the draft proposal, what safety nets are being implemented to ensure patient safety and adequate staffing levels?”

The march starts at 1pm at the Oamaru Farmers’ Market car park at and ends at Takaro Park.

The group is also preparing a petition to Minister of Health David Clark, outlining its concerns. It has so far garnered more than 1000 individual signatures.