People in Otago and Southland will pay more for an inferior health service if a plan to centralise neurosurgery in Christchurch goes ahead, according to a member of a district health board.
An expert panel has been appointed to resolve a row between the Canterbury and Southern DHBs over the future shape of the vital service.
Neurosurgery covers operations on the brain and spinal system, including the removal of brain tumours and blood clots.
It is proposed that all six South Island neurosurgeons should be based in Christchurch.
Richard Thomson, of the Southern DHB, says that would be unsafe and inconvenient for 300,000 people in Otago and Southland.
"It's our view that not only will this provide a less safe service to the people of Otago and Southland, but it's actually going to cost a couple of million dollars a year more to provide.
"I simply don't understand why you would put in place an inferior service for the southern half of the South Island at an additional cost of a couple of million dollars."
Dunedin surgeon Richard Bunton says removing specialists from Dunedin would have wide-ranging effects, including for medical training.
"Many, many services in New Zealand hospitals are based on two specialists, particularly in the smaller hospitals. So we may as well close the doors on all our small hospitals.
"What we are good at in New Zealand is providing services that are configured to suit the challenges that we have."
Health Minister Tony Ryall says the South Island needs a safe, reliable service.
A panel has been appointed to advise the Director-General of Health on the matter.