Nursing staff at a small rural hospital in Waipukurau don't want to take leave over Christmas, Central Hawke's Bay Deputy Mayor Ian Sharp says.
Local GPs and residents in Waipukurau and Waipawa have expressed shock and disappointment at the Hawke's Bay District Health Board's decision to close the nine-bed unit for two weeks, without any consultation with staff or the community.
The closure of the ward will mean patients from Waipukurau and Waipawa will have to travel more than 50km to Hastings for in-patient medical care.
The DHB said it often closed non-essential services over the holidays so staff could take leave.
However, Central Hawke's Bay Deputy Mayor Ian Sharp said he had spoken to nursing staff that ran the unit and they didn't want it to close.
"I can assure you having spoken to the staff don't want to take holidays, in fact they know it's an essential part and to say it's a non-essential service is also a mistake."
Mr Sharp, who is also the chair of the primary health services liason group, said he was not consulted by the DHB on the decision to close the unit.
Waipawa resident Pip Burne knew first hand just how valuable the in-patient ward in Waipukurau was.
Her mother was transferred there from Hastings hospital when she broke her hip, and later died there.
"I know the importance of having family members close... not only for the family outside of hospital but the ones that are in there over Christmas.
Staff at the health centre went out of their way to serve the community's 13,800 residents, she said.
"They're so accomodating in Central Hawke's Bay. When my mother passed away we were allowed to stay the night, and I had a two-week old baby at the time, and they made us feel like it was home.
Four GPs from Tuki Tuki Medical Centre in Waipukurau, which operates next door to the health centre, wrote an open letter in a local newspaper calling for the DHB to reverse its decision.
Doctor Andreas Daun told RNZ they were "surprised and disappointed" there was no consultation with staff or the community about the closure.
"We were told about a week ago... and we heard the decision was taken in July and hadn't been conveyed to us in all that time."
Dr Daun said the closure would be felt by those who sought after-hours care from the health centre, and especially the elderly over the holiday period.
"I'm particularly talking here about our palliative care patients who may present to the ward at any time to be admitted if their condition does deteriorate... as it happens all the time here. Those patients will have to be cared for in Hastings about 50km away and all their relatives will have to then travel to look after them," Dr Daun said.
"That will put quite a strain on their families.
"We have people presenting after-hours to the ward all the time with minor ailments and they're treated by the nurses on the ward.
"All this is going to fall away... the screening will have to be done by telephone and they'll be no immediate port of call for patients."
Hawke's Bay DHB said it often closed non-essential services at Hawke's Bay Hospital as part of its Christmas planning.
"This means the DHB can match resources and staffing to critical care areas such as the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit.
No wards are actually closed there are just less patients needing care, so fewer beds are in use," a spokesperson said.
"Central Hawke's Bay's inpatient unit hasn't been closed, in the past, over the Christmas holiday period, but was closed for a short time during the nurses strike earlier this year."
Discussions with staff in Central Hawke's Bay began last month, the spokesperson said.
The DHB will meet with community leaders tomorrow to discuss the issue.