Unused Auckland surgical centre could be treating over 15,000 patients a year

The unused Auckland surgical centre could be treating more than 15,000 patients a year.
The unused Auckland surgical centre could be treating more than 15,000 patients a year. Photo credit: RNZ

Story by Rowan Quinn of RNZ

The huge surgical centre sitting unused at Auckland's North Shore Hospital could be treating more than 15,000 patients a year.

The brand new, 150-bed facility, Tōtara Haumaru, was built and kitted-out but did not have enough staff - or a budget - to get up and running.

Doctors there told RNZ they had been kept in the dark.

One, who did not want to be named, said it was madness to have the centre's eight operating theatres sitting unused in the face of huge surgical waiting lists.

Clinicians had been asking how it would be staffed and funded since the project was in the planning stage but had never had straight answers, he said

He could not believe the problem had not been addressed before now.

Health Minister Shane Reti said when the building was fully up and running it would be able to do 8000 surgeries and 7500 endoscopy procedures (such as colonoscopies) every year.

But he acknowledged it would be a challenge to get the staff - and he understood the frustration of doctors, he said.

"Particularly as I see wait lists which this would directly apply itself to."

Labour's health spokesperson and former health minister Ayesha Verrall said Reti and Te Whatu Ora must sort the problem.

"A specific plan needs to be made for this hospital and it's troubling that a pathway to getting this hospital open, with the staff it needs in place hasn't been put forward," she said.

Te Whatu Ora had not yet allocated money to run the hospital.

Verrall said Te Whatu Ora could divert the money used to pay for public waitlist operations in private hospitals to the project.

For now, no one can say when the building will be operating full tilt.

Reti said the first stage should now be working in June but even finding enough workers for that would be tough.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the failure to open was "utterly disappointing" and the government was working on boosting the workforce through building another medical school and clearing immigration pathways.

But Verrall said progress that had begun to be made under her government to boost the health workforce had instead stalled.