Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand's board chair is "disturbed and concerned" by the loss of 24-hour doctor access at Rāwene Hospital, but remains unapologetic.
The lack of after-hours doctor at the isolated rural hospital was due to staff availability, not lack of money, the chair of the new national health entity Te Whatu Ora said.
From tomorrow there would be no doctor on site in the evenings or overnight at the 26-bed hospital in Hokianga.
It offers rest home care, geriatric, maternity, non-surgical services and urgent care. But now, anyone needing a doctor outside the new limited hours would have at least another 70 kilometres to travel to reach one, in Kawakawa, or Kaitāia.
Te Whatu Ora's board discussed Rāwene Hospital's predicament on Friday.
Board chair Rob Campbell told RNZ the board members were 'disturbed and concerned'.
He said funding was not the problem in this case - the issue was finding people available to fill the gap.
Doctors were being sought from throughout Auckland and Northland, but staff availability was a nation-wide problem.
"It's an unfortunate but pretty clear example of what it is we're trying to deal with, but right at the moment, our communication line and our staffing availability hasn't been able to cope with it - until now," Campbell said.
"But the team are working on it as we speak."
Te Whatu Ora chief executive Fepulea'i Margie Apa said: "The metro Auckland districts, or hospitals, are looking at who we can release to support Whangārei, and then that may help them release people to go out into the region."
Hauora Hokianga manages the hospital, its chief executive Margareth Broodkoorn (Ngāpuhi) has said the decision to stop after-hours doctor services was made with "great reluctance".
"I am truly sorry that it has come to this, a decision that has not been made lightly without seeking assistance from others and exploring multiple options."
But when RNZ asked Campbell and Apa if Te Whatu Ora should also be apologising, they rejected this.
"Apology - look, I don't think that's the point," Campbell said.
"It is more important to recognise that it is a concern, and that we're doing what we can to help Hokianga get on top of it."
Hospital management have said the roster gap could last two months.
National's health spokesman Dr Shane Reti (Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Maniapoto) trained at Rāwene, and has said the lack of an on site doctor outside the hours of 8am to 5pm is "not acceptable".
Minister of Health Andrew Little has said he was "concerned".
He said Te Whatu Ora leaders were giving Hauora Hokianga staff, "as much support as they can".