An artist’s impression of the Whangārei Hospital Development.
Most of us know how run-down our hospital was allowed to become. Built in the 1950s, Whangārei Hospital had been allowed to run on and down, well past its use-by date, despite pleas for new buildings over many years. On top of that, we are one of the most deprived areas in the country and one of the fastest-growing as people leave Auckland and move north, so our needs are many and growing.
Accordingly, it was fantastic to go to the hospital with Health Minister Andrew Little recently, and for him to commit to a massive new build in two stages. Stage one – a new, state-of-the-art, acute services building to replace the oldest part of the current hospital – is already costed and signed off by Cabinet at $759 million.
Stage two – a new ward tower – also has Cabinet’s full commitment with the expectation it will cost over $200m. While we knew in May that the Budget included a commitment to fund stage one, with an initial $570-odd million set aside, we did not then have the full costings nor the commitment to fund stage two. Now we have a cast-iron commitment to both.
With stage one, rather than today’s emergency department (ED) with less than half the size needed, we will have an ED with three times more space, 10 operating theatres, a coronary care unit and modern intensive-care facilities.
Stage two will include 158 additional beds, with four medical and surgical wards and an acute assessment unit.
The rebuild also includes a new child health unit with a whānau house and emergency accommodation so families can stay with their children.
This near-billion dollar investment – the biggest in Whangārei’s history – comes on top of funding already announced for a new radiology facility and more paediatric and maternity beds, and on top of the new theatres and cardio lab we funded and built last year.
This is part of this Government’s massive upgrade of our health infrastructure, repairing previous neglect. The figures speak for themselves: $7 billion invested under this Government in five years: $1b under National over nine years.
A huge build like this obviously cannot happen overnight, but we go to tender early next year and expect completion by 2031.
The construction in itself is a reason to celebrate: it is expected to generate 500 jobs, including carpenters, electricians and plumbers. In this difficult global environment, I am already hearing from many local companies very encouraged to have this reliable long-term work stream.
Whangārei owes a huge debt to ex-DHB chief Dr Nick Chamberlain and his team for campaigning so hard for so many years. As MP I’m obviously chuffed to have helped them bring the project home by lobbying hard with my Cabinet colleagues (or in minister Little’s unflattering description, “making his ears bleed”).
Most of all, however, as a Whangārei local with family and friends who use the hospital, I’m just hugely relieved that we’re finally getting what Whangarei has so long needed: a hospital fit to take us into the future.