I am stepping up my long term campaign for a new hospital for Nelson. New reports show our main hospital buildings are much more earthquake-prone than previously thought. I also believe investing in public infrastructure projects makes good economic sense in a recession.
I rewrote the Building Act provisions for earthquake strengthening in 2017 when I was Minister of Building and Construction. These require assessments of major structures and prioritise the upgrade of public buildings like schools and hospitals. The recent reassessments of Nelson Hospital finds it would be unusable after a significant earthquake. Nelson resides within New Zealand’s core fault zone and we have a similar risk to Napier and Christchurch. It is not a question of whether we have a major earthquake – just a question of when. We are running the risk every year we delay of having a large earthquake and a hospital unable to treat or care for many seriously injured people.
The City Council in May under the new law issued Earthquake Prone Building notices to the Health Board. These rate the hospital chimney stack at 20%, the George Manson tower block and operating theatres at 22% and the Percy Burnett tower block at 33%. This means our main hospital buildings need to be three to five times stronger to meet today’s standards. These legal notices require an upgrade by 2028.
The case for a new Nelson Hospital was also strengthened by last week’s stocktake report by the Ministry of Health on all of New Zealand’s public hospitals. Nelson rates poorly and the issues are much more than just seismic issues. The 149 beds are insufficient as evidenced by the over-crowding last winter. Nor are the facilities up to standard for patients, doctors, nurses and our many other dedicated health professionals. It was built in the 50s and 60s and is unsuited to modern medical care and practice.
National had a strong programme of upgrading our hospitals, building new facilities in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Blenheim. Construction of the new Greymouth Hospital was started under National and approval and funding given for Dunedin’s new hospital. Both have subsequently had major delays. No new major hospital projects have been started under Labour since 2017. My objective for Nelson Hospital, regardless of who is in Government, is that it be the next cab off the rank.
The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board is making progress and presented a Business Case in Wellington last month. The next key stage is getting approval for detailed design. The scale of this project is far larger than any previous infrastructure I have helped deliver for Nelson. I expect the cost to exceed $500 million. Construction is complicated by having to ensure services are not disrupted.
There is a lot to get right. This is a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a first class hospital to meet the health needs of Nelson and Tasman for the next 50 years. We need to get on with it.