My top priority this parliamentary term is progressing a new hospital for Nelson which will be the largest building project ever for our region.
Our population is growing and ageing and the current 149 bed facility has insufficient capacity. Medicine is also changing and the layout of the two fifty year old main tower blocks is no longer fit for modern care models. Recent reports and new regulations confirm the buildings are an earthquake risk.
A big part of my work as Building Minister in the last Parliament was rewriting New Zealand’s laws in respect of earthquake risk. We used to leave each council to set their own seismic standards. The new national requirements came into effect last July. These set a higher standard for emergency buildings like hospitals and set a tighter timetable for these to be upgraded.
The District Health Board properly commissioned Beca to reassess all the Nelson Hospital buildings last year and briefed me on the reports last week. The two main towers rate at 40% and 35% of what is required of the new building standards. This means the risk to life in these older buildings is 5-10 times greater than if they were new. The newer parts of the hospital like the operating theatres, emergency department and intensive care unit are sound but would not be useable after a quake because of the risk of damage from the surrounding tower blocks.
Our earthquake risk is similar to Christchurch and I do not want a repeat of what occurred there when the emergency response was compromised by having damaged hospital facilities.
A new hospital raises the question of whether it should be rebuilt on the existing site. I like the central city location and I don’t know of any other large vacant sites suitable. I do not favour moving to Richmond as we need to recognise it provides services to Marlborough people as well.
I estimate the cost at about $400 million for a new 200 bed facility for Nelson. National built twelve new hospitals during the last decade with the largest being Christchurch costing $750 million and Hamilton $500 million. The new Dunedin hospital is estimated at $1300 million but it is on a greenfields site. This $400 million price sounds daunting but Nelson Marlborough Health spend this amount every year on services.
The Board is preparing a business case for the Ministry of Health and Treasury this November with detailed design and costings in 2019. It is important the Board consults with our health professionals and public to get it right.
My hope would be for construction to begin in 2020 and completion by 2023. I want to build cross party and wider community support to assist our health board in this mammoth task. Our goal should be a new, safer, larger hospital that can deliver quality health care for our community for the next half century.