24 March 2020

Canberra Hospital's SPIRE project big enough to do the job, Minister insists

| Ian Bushnell
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Planned SPIRE development

An image of the planned SPIRE development from its latest project update. Image: Supplied.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has defended the ACT Government’s flagship hospital development in the face of ongoing criticism that it is underfunded and not big enough to meet the Territory’s growing needs, confirming that the project’s size and capacity will not change.

The $500 million SPIRE project that will provide a new emergency surgical and critical care facility at Canberra Hospital is touted as the ACT Government’s largest health infrastructure project.

But the project has been under fire, unsurprisingly, from the Opposition, but also community groups, as well as former Labor Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and his University of Canberra colleague Khalid Ahmed.

Mr Stanhope, in particular, through his regular column in City News, has drawn on Dr Ahmed’s research to accuse the Barr Government of ripping money out of the health budget and underestimating demand in the ACT as its population continues to grow.

He says that a ”watered down” SPIRE will include only 148 beds, about one-third of the number planned a decade ago when Katy Gallagher was health minister.

But Ms Stephen-Smith said the Government is taking a Territory-wide approach that includes other health facilities such as Calvary Public and the new University of Canberra Hospital, as well as considering a new hospital on the northside.

”We’ve got to really remember that Canberra Hospital, while it is the tertiary hospital for the region, the major trauma centre for the region, it is not our only hospital, we also have Calvary Public in Bruce, and we need to plan our services on a Territory-wide basis,” she said.

“We’re also scoping a potential new northside hospital either at Calvary or alongside that.”

She says planning for the SPIRE Project, which has had several iterations, has been based on detailed modelling of demand at other facilities, and that the number beds and facilities had been increased as a result.

Ms Stephen-Smith insists that the planning for SPIRE is taking into account the ACT’s demographic changes and that the new facility will be able to meet demand.

“We’re working constantly to ensure our planning is staying up to date with the projections of demand that were seeing into the future,” she said.

“We’re really confident that what we’re planning into SPIRE at this stage will meet that demand stage in line with what we’re seeing in terms of growing demand and an ageing population. The number of beds, number of ICU spaces, the number of Emergency Department spaces will not change.”

SPIRE will have 148 in-patient beds; 55-day surgery beds; 60 ICU spaces, including four paediatric beds; 39 extra ED spaces; 22 operating theatres; and radiology and medical imaging.

Rachel Stephen-Smith and Duncan Edghill

Rachel Stephen-Smith and Major Projects’ Duncan Edghill at Canberra Hospital for the SPIRE update announcement. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The Woden Valley Community Council has also criticised the government for putting the cart before the horse by pressing on with SPIRE without completing the new Master Plan, and placing the new facility on the wrong site, arguing it should be centrally located on the hospital campus.

Ms Stephen-Smith says it would be inaccurate to present the Master Plan as the start of the planning process, calling it more a refresher of the hospital’s Capital Assets Development Plan.

”It is the continuation of an ongoing planning process, bringing all of that feedback together to put something out for the community of what we’re envisaging for the next 20 years,” she said. “It’s really part of an ongoing evolution of Canberra Hospital and the ongoing modernisation Canberra Hospital.”

The ACT Government has contracted architecture health care design practice Silver Thomas Hanley for $1.2 million to design the Canberra Hospital Master Plan, which is expected to be complete by July 2020.

Last week the Government updated its SPIRE precinct plans in response to concerns from the Garran community about the location of the new ED and increased traffic, including ambulances, past Garran Public School.

While ambulances will still travel past the school, the ED entrance for public presentations was moved to Hospital Road, which will now be split by an all-weather walkway between SPIRE and the rest of the hospital.

The Government says this will ease traffic in Gilmore Crescent by diverting public presentations to the other end of Hospital Road, but the Opposition says this will result in traffic chaos and is just another example of the Government’s poor planning.

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