Public meetings in Central Otago are attracting hundred of residents worried about funding cuts at their local hospital.
The DHB is looking for ways to cut its total expenditure by 5 percent and its six rural hospitals are among the services in the firing line.
Central Otago Health Services - the community-owned not-for-profit company which runs Dunstan Hospital at Clyde on behalf of the DHB - said it would be the worst affected of the southern hospitals if the cuts go ahead.
Chairperson Russell McGeorge said the area the 31 bed hospital covers - from Haast to south of Roxburgh and including the towns of Wanaka, Cromwell and Alexandra - experienced an average 17 percent population growth between the 2006 and 2013 Census.
Demand for the hospital's services has leapt by 20 percent during the past three years as a result.
Mr McGeorge said the cuts could force a reduction in both bed and staff numbers, and mean more Central Otago people will have to travel 2 to 3 hours to Dunedin for hospital services.
He said the hospital actually needed a 5 percent funding increase, to cope with the growing demand.
But DHB executive director of planning and funding, Sandra Boardman, said the DHB had been giving some services more money than it could afford for years.
Ms Boardman said Dunstan Hospital's funding had increased by 65 percent since 2007, while the DHB's had only grown by 32 percent.
She said this was not affordable and the DHB was committed to working with Central Otago Health Services, and service providers in other areas, to find ways to reduce costs with minimal impact on patient services.
Resident Doctors' Association national secretary, Deborah Powell, said the root cause of the problem was clearly financial mismanagement at the DHB.
Ms Powell said it was time this was put under the microscope, as opposed to coalface service delivery.
She said rural hospitals provided an excellent, value for money service because the staff were committed to their communities and the major hospitals would not cope if they had to add these patients to their existing numbers.
The next in the series of meetings to discuss the Central Otago cuts is in Wanaka on Tuesday, 26 May.