Questions remain over where Hutt Hospital patients will go

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

Uncertainty looms for Hutt hospital and health services in the wider Wellington region after the main building was this week deemed earthquake prone.

The DHB told 1News they are in their planning stages as to how to relocate patients and services out of the building which houses around 79% of the hospitals bed.

“We have to find out where these patients can go. We're talking to private providers, private hospitals, aged care facilities, looking at where Capital and Coast Health can help out and even looking at possibly the region,” says the Chief Medical Officer at Hutt Valley DHB, John Tait.

He says patients will be taken off site but “hopefully we'll be able to build some temporary buildings that will enable them to come back”.

Hutt Valley DHB finally confirmed to 1News today that the Heretaunga building’s seismic rating is only 15%. It comes after National list MP based in Hutt South, Chris Bishop revealed the information earlier today to media.

This puts the building in the “very high risk” category as the rating is well below the 34% mark which deems a building earthquake prone.

“There’s really been an information vacuum with regards to the earthquake prone building, the Heretaunga block at Hutt hospital. It’s very concerning with the way this information has become public and the drip feeding of information from the DHB,” says Bishop.

After calling it low risk yesterday, the DHB is now moving into high gear, telling 1News they have now set up an emergency team and are providing all staff.

1News spoke to visitors outside of the hospital on Wednesday with many saying they’ve been asking doctors and nurses when their loved ones will be moved and to where, but so far it seems no one knows the answer to that, and they’re concerned for their loved ones wellbeing and safety.

Dhaval Patel is one such man. He’s waiting for surgery this week but now he’s worried about the when and where.

“No one knows what’s happening, I think there is a bit of communication gap,” says Patel who’s already had four postponements for the hernia operation and has been waiting for over a year.

If its rescheduled he says he’ll have to wait possibly another year and may need to look at going overseas for the surgery.

Adding to the stress, he’s considering what a gradual closure of the hospital building means for his shop located just across the road.

“No visitors will come around here so I will definitely get affected,” he says.

Patel poured all his savings into this business after losing his job during Covid and this weeks news came as a bombshell to him. “I am actually thinking should I go ahead with the business or should I close down my business,” he says.

As patients and services are relocated, there’s also concerns about the capacity at other Wellington health services to take extra patients on board.

“It will certainly add to the pressures being felt by the Wellington health workforce, they are already trying to deal with significant waiting lists,” says Sarah Dalton, the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists.

She’s also concerned about the future of the building.

“I think the New Zealand health system generally needs another failing hospital building like it needs a hole in the head. It’s a terrible time with a massive queue of very old, very tired buildings waiting to be fixed so I guess this will just join the queue,” she says.

Health Minister Andrew Little told Breakfast the future of the building will be decided in the next few weeks, saying “we have got to have a hospital in the Hutt”.

“I don’t want to see Lower Hutt lose Hutt hospital, I will be fighting as hard as possible to make sure Lower Hutt hospital remains and it’s well-resourced so people of the Hutt can be looked after by the health system,” says Chris Bishop.

But in the meantime it’s patients like Patel that are left in limbo, and even more so, soon to-be mothers with their month long plans at the maternity ward at the hospital. Many will now have to change plans - and with the private birthing centre in Lower Hutt having closed there’s no clear idea where they will go right now.

“No one said this was going to be easy but we have confidence that all maternity patients and other patients will get the care they would normally expect, but it is going to be stressful and one has to acknowledge that both for the staff and for the women,” says Tait.