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Getting better? Waitaki District Health Services chief executive Ruth Kibble says the hospital is "coming out the other side" of the organisation's controversial restructure. Inset: Clinical director Dr Pragati Gautama at the hospital's resuscitation room, which is used to stabilise patients for transfers. PHOTOS: REBECCA RYAN AND DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Waitaki District Health Services chief executive Ruth Kibble says she understands the community’s concerns around the proposed organisational restructure at Oamaru Hospital.

“But I don’t want them to be frightened. Change is always difficult, it takes time to trust new people and I’d like to try to turn this around into a positive conversation,” Mrs Kibble said.

On February 11, a “proposal for change” document was distributed to staff at Oamaru Hospital proposing several staffing changes as part of an organisational restructure, including all nursing roles to be disestablished and reappointed.

It came after a review, conducted in late 2018, which “looked at ways to meet the challenge of financial sustainability and clinical safety” faced by the Waitaki District Council-owned and -operated company.

The company recorded an operational deficit of $688,655 in the year to June 30 and the proposal said the company could not continue to sustain the financial losses it had suffered in recent years.

In addition to a staffing restructure, ways of using the hospital building more effectively were also proposed, including redeveloping the kitchen space into a minor operations theatre and a dedicated resuscitation room within the emergency department.

Over the past five years there had been numerous reviews undertaken, specifically relating to nursing and models of care, but limited progress and a lack of change in response to external factors had led to some of the issues Oamaru Hospital faced today, Mrs Kibble said.

The Waitaki District Council-owned company that operates the hospital was not able to speak publicly about specific roles affected by the restructuring, which made it hard to communicate the full picture, Mrs Kibble said.

“But Oamaru health has an exciting future, if we just stabilise the ship now, we’ll be fine to grow,’ she said.

Mrs Kibble said the proposal for change document was not final, and she welcomed feedback through the consultation period running until March 11 and at a series of community meetings next week.

“I suspect many people have experienced pseudo consultation in the past where it’s not been real – this is actually real,” she said.

“We don’t want to have to do this again. We want to get it right for our staff, for the patients and for the community.”

Oamaru Hospital is a designated rural hospital, but clinical director Dr Pragati Gautama said operationally it was not functioning that way.

“Part of that is because we really do need to look at upskilling – and we’re not just talking about doctors, it has to be multi-disciplinary,” Dr Gautama said.

“We want clinical excellence, we want everyone to be right up to scope – doctors, nurses, physios, OTs – everyone is professional and they need to feel confident they’ve got the skills to go forward.”

They acknowledged the announcement of the proposal had been challenging for staff, many of whom had come from a model that had been “siloed and specialist-orientated”.

Mrs Kibble said she operated with an open door policy and there were boxes for anonymous questions and feedback at the hospital.

“As we start to prove ourselves, our results will talk to the community. I think people will come in behind it,” she said.

She acknowledged communication with the wider community could have been better.

“Absolutely – you can always improve on what you’re doing,” she said.

In efforts to improve communication with the community, Waitaki District Health Services is holding a series of four community meetings next week.

The meetings will be an opportunity to discuss what needed to be done in the hospital to improve clinical safety, which directly relates to the restructure – and for the community to ask questions of the board and hospital management.

The meetings will be held on March 5, at 2.30pm and 7pm, and March 6, at 7.30am and 7pm, at the Oamaru Opera House’s Whitestone Cheese Empire Room.

RSVPs are required as seating is limited to 70 people per session. To RSVP, call 03 433-0290.

If required, more meetings will be held the following week.

A peaceful picket, organised by the community to support Oamaru Hospital staff, has also been planned to be held at 11.45am today at Takaro Park.