Queenstown doctors are seething at a behind-the-scenes plan by the Southern District Health Board (DHB) to hive off the district's public hospital into a private trust.
The DHB is currently consulting with residents about ways it can save money, and while it has not officially acknowledged that it wants to rid itself of the hospital, doctors have confirmed that is the future intention.
Southern DHB chief executive Carole Heatly has said publicly that nothing had been decided about the future of Lakes District Hospital and all options were still on the table.
But two weeks ago, in a closed-door meeting, the DHB let its intentions be known.
Wakatipu Health Trust head Maria Cole, who was at the meeting and is advocating for a private trust, said doctors were shocked to learn the DHB intended to divest itself of the running of Queenstown's hospital.
"They dropped the bombshell then and said they thought that was the best thing for Queenstown," Mrs Cole said.
However, the doctors were not happy.
"I agreed a trust was the best way forward, but the doctors around the table were just mortified," she said.
Until recently, the DHB had been promising to rebuild Lakes District Hospital, but Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said that would never happen if the hospital was run by a private trust.
He said the DHB was being reckless.
"In their decision to try and offload to a community trust they've done no analysis of this, there's no report and no investigation. They're simply doing it because they are under financial pressure," Mr Powell said.
If the DHB succeeded, he said they would then squeeze the trust to work under a tight financial framework.
'Queenstown needs to be master of its own destiny'
Lakes District Hospital senior medical officer James Reid said he had concerns that funding under a trust would be capped.
"We know that at least 50 percent of the people we see through the hospital are tourists, and the DHB has always underestimated how many tourists we see. So if we change the governance model we'd have to know that it was funded appropriately and wasn't constrained by the data," Dr Reid said.
Ms Cole, whose Wakatipu Health Trust advocated to run the hospital several years ago, said the idea of a private trust was still a good one.
She said Queenstown could be swallowed up by Alexandra's Dunstan Hospital, which is run by a private trust, with the DHB flagging that the two hospitals could be governed by one trust.
"Queenstown needs to be master of its own destiny. I believe the real danger for our own community is if we sit back and let three bureaucrats take control. They will continue to invest in Dunstan, and Queenstown will remain a satellite cottage hospital administered by Dunstan," Mrs Cole said.
The DHB is now halfway through its consultation with local communities and will be in Queenstown to answer questions about its cost-cutting strategy on 12 November.