Middlemore hospital sewerage problems were politicised shit fight

Claims that sewerage had leaked into the walls of buildings at Middlemore Hospital and were an alarming health risk created headlines, but afterwards questions were more quietly asked. It has now been claimed that the sewerage scares were not correct.

It turns out to be much ado about not much, with no sewerage at all in walls – according to the latest claims.

So where did the alarming claims from? Was this deliberate shitty politics?

NZH: Middlemore Hospital sewage leak a ‘stain on the ground’

A multitude of building issues at Middlemore Hospital and the extent of them have been revealed recently: Rot and toxic mould caused by leaking, asbestos, seismic and power supply issues – and sewage leaks.

Manukau District Health Board said reports about the extent of the two sewage leaks in the Scott Building last year were not correct, and they were not ongoing issues.

“We can confirm that despite the dramatic language that has been used around sewage issues at Middlemore Hospital, the sewage leaks were small.”

One was so small it was cleaned up with water.

“There was no sewage spilling into the building, just some staining on the ground within the soil stack duct. To clean it up, engineering had to mix water on it, so the quantity was less than a bucket,” the DHB said in a statement.

Health Minister David Clark told the Herald he had been repeatedly reassured by the DHB that there was no risk to patients from the leaks.

“They have a plan in place to manage the challenging set of infrastructure they have and that is their responsibility to manage that.”

So things are not as bad as was made out – but politicians jumped in to use the reported leaks as an example of huge problems  caused by the last government’s lack of funding.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the situation at Middlemore is emblematic of a much wider problem in health, and Clark said the DHB’s issues were not much different to those faced by health boards around the country.

The Middlemore saga may already have cost acting board chairman Rabin Rabindran and another board member their jobs. Clark has asked them to make submissions on their positions but Rabindran has reportedly already told the minister he no longer wants it.

A casualty of the political bickering.

Clark now says he doesn’t want to “quibble” about the past but instead wants to focus on the job in front of him.

A sensible approach – but it would have been better to have taken this approach before turning the sewerage leak into a political shit fight.

One could cynically wonder whether budget health funding has now been secured.

NZH has a different headline online: The real story behind sewage ‘leak’ at Middlemore Hospital

Good on them, but this is weeks after the story broke  – shouldn’t media determine what the real story is before rushing to headlines?

Government to drip feed health underfunding stories pre-budget

Former Health Minister Jonathan has finally spoken about what he knew about the building problems at Middlemore Hospital that seem to have suddenly emerged.

RNZ: Coleman says documents show he didn’t know about hospital rot

RNZ has been reporting on hospital buildings at Middlemore Hospital that are full of rot and potentially dangerous mould. There’s also asbestos present and raw sewage leaking into the walls.

Earlier today, National Party leader Simon Bridges told Morning Report Dr Coleman did not know about Middlemore’s building problems.

In a blog post this afternoon Dr Coleman said he had been reviewing a couple of “very pertinent” documents.

“It’s just not credible to say that Middlemore Building problems were widely known about and I would have known,” he wrote.

This claim that was made in late March to Morning Report by former Counties Manukau District Health Board chair Lee Mathias.

“Most people in Wellington knew of the situation Middlemore was in,” she said then.

She also said the state of the buildings was covered in board minutes that were publicly available. However, the DHB has blocked the release of these minutes to RNZ under the Official Information Act.

More withholding of information under the OIA.

But the Government seems intent on not withholding information about health underfunding heading into next month’s budget.

RNZ:  PM hints of further public underfunding revelations

The government is going to drip feed stories of public sector underfunding by the previous government in the run-up to next month’s Budget, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated.

Ms Ardern is playing down expectations of a big spending budget next month saying her government did not realise how bad the under-investment in public services had been under National.

She said it was now clear National put budget surpluses ahead of the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and chronically short-changed public services.

“I’ve always said that from the beginning we thought it would be bad, we didn’t know it would be this bad.

“And the public is seeing just a snapshot of it now, the state of Middlemore Hospital I think is emblematic of what we’re seeing across the board.”

I get the feeling that the public were played during the election campaign, and are being played by politicians now – with DHBs possibly complicit.


“What we are flagging is that as we’ve gone through this process we’ve uncovered things we didn’t expect. We want to build more transparency around that as we lead up to Budget day.

“As ministers we have been engaging in this conversation for some time, we’ve decided it’s one we should be having with the public too.”

The public could have done with factual information on health and hospital funding long ago. This sort of waffle in an apparent attempt to manage pre-budget PR is crap. If Ardern has information she should just present it all now.  Instead she seems to be intent on playing a risky game. Not all information that is drip fed could look good for Labour.

So why did the Middlemore building story just start to emerge now? It sounds too serious and important to be used as political misinformation.

Middlemore mess grows, Coleman blamed

RNZ broke the story of a building in very poor condition at Middlemore Hospital, and that grew to multiple buildings.

The building at Middlemore Hospital that houses the country’s largest maternity service might have to be knocked down because it is unstable and riddled with asbestos. The hospital says it’s getting to the point it would be cheaper to build new buildings than repair the existing ones.

Raw sewage has been leaking into the walls of Middlemore Hospital’s Scott building, on top of all the other problems with its buildings.

Seven buildings were considered of “high concern” with asbestos, leaks, critical infrastructure problems and some seismic concerns.

Press editorial: Middlemore is a bleak symbol of health failure

 If you wanted to devise a metaphor for a failing health system, you could not do better than images of toxic mould and rot, leaking sewage and power failures at Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland. It is as though underfunding had taken on physical form at a hospital that serves some of the most deprived communities in the country.

The new Government has inherited these problems from a National Government that prided itself on running a tight financial ship. Even as recently as this week, when worsening news about Middlemore appeared in the media, new National leader Simon Bridges stuck to a script about prudent financial management and passed the buck back to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark.

But the responsibility for this and other problems of underfunding and general neglect in the health system really need to be sheeted home to former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, who has already signalled his departure from politics for the private health system. Many National MPs are said to quietly blame Coleman for their 2017 election result as both health and mental health became political quagmires.

Many are disappointed that Coleman’s sudden departure from politics means he will not face the music over Middlemore. An interview on RNZ’s Morning Report ended with the former minister hanging up when questions about Middlemore were asked. It was a sad but symbolic end for Coleman, who claimed he had not been warned about the line of questioning. RNZ said that, in fact, he had.

More crucially, what did Coleman know about Middlemore? Bridges has said the National Government knew about Counties Manukau Health’s need for extra capital but not about the specifics of its buildings. Others have said that the problem of toxic mould at Middlemore was something of an open secret in Wellington but one that somehow never made it to the ears of the former Health Minister.

Middlemore isn’t the only hospital with major building problems, Dunedin being another with asbestos and leak problems (this has been known for years). The rebuild of Dunedin, promised by Labour, may have to wait if expensive repairs have to be pushed forward elsewhere.