Buller council proposes to build Westport IFHC

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Lee Scanlon
of the Westport News
Buller Mayor Garry Howard has confirmed the Buller District Council has put up a proposal to build Westport’s proposed integrated family health centre (IFHC).
His revelation followed comments on Friday from a former mayor, Pat O’Dea, who urged the council to come clean on its involvement.
The Government, not the council, was responsible for funding health facilities, Mr O’Dea said.
Mr Howard said the council would only be involved if it was satisfied the IFHC was fit for purpose. “And then we would only get involved if the Government isn’t going to centrally fund it.”
Asked if it was the council’s role to be funding public health facilities, Mr Howard said there was a “strategic reason” for the council’s proposal.
“It would be an advantage to ratepayers if we were involved and we’d certainly spell that out if it’s going to be the case.”
Asked if ratepayers would have a say on whether the council invested in an IFHC, he replied: “Most likely not. It would be councillors who would actually make the decision.”
Ratepayers elected councillors to make decisions on their behalf, he said.
“Those elected members will act in their (ratepayers’) best interests. It will be well spelled out, should that proceed.
“But there’s a lot of hurdles and a lot of things to happen, before council makes that final decision.”
He confirmed the council had already had talks about its proposal with the Government and the Ministry of Health.
It had also had some discussions with clinicians, but council wanted to hear more from them. They judge whether the proposed IFHC was fit for purpose, he said.
Rumours that the council had proposed to fund the new centre had been circulating since a secret council meeting in June to discuss the IFHC. The council cited commercial reasons for excluding the public.
As recently as two days ago, Mr Howard would not confirm or deny the rumours the council had proposed to fund the IFHC build.
Mr O’Dea was shocked that the council did not intend to consult ratepayers.
“I totally disagree with that. It’s outside the scope of councillors’ responsibility and if the council go ahead with that then the public should revolt.
“It’s totally unacceptable.”
The council should not be involved with the building, funding or design of the proposed IFHC, Mr O’Dea said.
“They would set a precedent for small communities throughout New Zealand to be at the whim of government for health issues.”
He did not buy Mr Howard’s argument that the council’s involvement could mean a better health centre.
“It’s a government responsibility, not just for Buller but throughout New Zealand.
“When the Government can squander millions of dollars on the Pike River
track and not worry about the health and well-being of our New Zealand citizens, then it’s certainly time for a change of government.”
When Mr O’Dea was mayor his council put ratepayer money into saving dental services and helping secure a GP.
He said on Friday that neither was the same as the council taking on a government responsibility to provide public health services.
The council took over the private dental clinic because Westport would not have had a dentist otherwise, and there was no great expense to ratepayers, Mr O’Dea said.
“We really only facilitated, we didn’t build anything.”
The council also provided a home loan to help attract a GP to Buller when the town was short of doctors. The doctor repaid the loan, he said.

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