Ashburton Hospital Theatre Block Closed Following Engineering Assessments

Tuesday January 31, 2012

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) closed the operating theatre block at Ashburton Hospital this morning following advice from external structural engineers.
 
Detailed inspections were carried out last week and the engineers concluded parts of the theatre block at Ashburton Hospital are earthquake prone and have very high seismic risk because of their construction being unreinforced masonry.
 
Canterbury District Health Board Chief Executive David Meates has met with theatre staff earlier this morning to tell them about the closure. 
 
“We have had to cancel surgery at short notice – and I apologise to all those who have been affected.  I realise how inconvenient this closure is – however, we cannot continue to operate in this theatre given that we are still experiencing quakes and we know parts of the building are earthquake-prone,” Mr Meates says.
 
“I know many people travel from out of the district to Ashburton to have their surgery or outpatients appointments.” 
 
The theatre building was assessed as part of CDHB’s process of reviewing the seismic capacity of buildings. 
 
“All of our buildings are inspected after each significant quake for visible signs of damage.  This is followed up by more detailed invasive inspections,” he says. 
 
An initial engineering assessment of the theatre block was followed by a detailed inspection last week. This involved checking under-floor and roof spaces revealed the extent of unreinforced masonry.
 
“We know that in the event of another major quake, unreinforced masonry buildings have a higher risk of collapse. As a result of closing these buildings there will be disruption for patients who would normally have their surgery and procedures carried out in one of the two theatres at Ashburton,” Mr Meates says.
 
“CDHB is committed to maintaining a wide range of services in Ashburton, We are waiting for engineering assessments on other buildings on the Ashburton site.  However, because of their age it is likely some of these buildings, including wards, may also be ‘earthquake prone’.  I am expecting to receive these reports over the next few weeks. At that point we will need to explore a range of options for service delivery in Ashburton.”
 
Mr Meates says 13 patients have been affected by the theatre closure today.
 
“We have managed to reschedule some patients to Christchurch Hospital and the others will be rescheduled to the next available appointment.  CDHB staff will endeavour to contact everyone who is booked to have surgery at Ashburton Hospital. 
 
“We will phone those booked this week and write to everyone else.
 
“We will be making decisions over the next day or so about where Ashburton patients will have their surgery in the short-term. 
 
“As we have previously stated, where we have concerns or become aware of issues regarding any of our buildings we will not compromise the safety of our employees or the public.”
 
Following all significant quakes all CDHB buildings are checked by independent structural engineers to ensure that facilities are safe to occupy. 
 
Further invasive inspections are continuing to occur at CDHB facilities throughout Canterbury.  CDHB owns more than 200 buildings located from Kaikoura in the north to Ashburton in the south. 
 
Since the September 2010 quake more than 7500 hospital rooms have been damaged and CDHB has already undertaken a significant range of urgent repairs.
 
The cost of repairs was originally estimated to be in the region of about $70 million, However, the cost of repairs and significant strengthening is expected to continue to rise as the results of further invasive inspections become available and the costs of the necessary work is known.
 
ENDS
 
If the building was previously safe to occupy, what’s changed?
Inspections were carried out following initial major quakes and after-shocks. As these buildings were not visibly damaged, they were subject to a wider review of seismic capacity which has just been completed.
 
As part of more detailed invasive inspections by external structural engineers, visual inspections were carried out of under-floor and roof spaces to confirm the extent of unreinforced masonry.  
 
While the theatre building does not appear to have been significantly damaged by recent earthquakes, there is a heightened seismic risk in the area and the building has been deemed earthquake-prone.
 
Building records indicate the Ashburton Hospital theatre block was constructed in several stages.  The oldest part, built in 1923 is constructed from unreinforced brick masonry, with additions and alterations in 1960 and 1979.
 
Have all the buildings on the Ashburton Hospital campus been checked?
Initial checks have been made.  Further, more detailed assessments are underway and include ward blocks which are still being assessed and we are expecting these reports in the next few weeks.
 
What exactly is the problem?
The walls in most of these buildings are made from unreinforced masonry (in most cases brick) and as such are at high risk of collapse in a significant earthquake. 
 
How many people have surgery at Ashburton Hospital?
Around 1500 each year – the majority are from out of the Ashburton district.
 
What impact will this have on Canterbury’s DHB to deliver its elective surgery targets and provide timely access for Canterbury people?

The ongoing Canterbury earthquakes have impacted significantly over the last 18 months on the delivery of services including elective surgery. Utilising Ashburton Hospital’s theatre capacity has been one of many initiatives to ensure Canterbury people get their operations as early as possible and it also has helped the CDHB meet government health targets for elective surgery. 
 
The CDHB is committed to increasing its elective services capacity – and will explore all options available.

 
Ashburton Hospital 2009/102010/112011/12 (year to date as at 31 Dec 2011)
Total elective surgical procedures undertaken11341401748

(NB this is for 6 month period only)

 
What sort of surgery is carried out in Ashburton?
Mainly general surgery and gynaecology and the majority (87%) is carried out as day surgery.
 
Who carries out the surgery at Ashburton Hospital?
Surgery is undertaken by a total of nine surgeons including seven visiting general surgeons and gynaecologists from Christchurch.
 
Where will services be relocated to?
In the short-term we will be exploring a range of options and once decisions are made these will be communicated to patients, staff and the public.
 
The long-term outlook will be discussed with the CDHB board in the wider context of CDHB’s overall facilities redevelopment and long-term service planning.
 
What will this closure mean for staff? Will there be job losses?
No job losses are envisaged – however, some staff may be asked to work in different areas in the hospital or from different locations.  Around 12-14 staff in a range of roles work in the theatre block.​
Page last reviewed: 23 July 2013
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