2 May 2020

Barr defends pop-up ED, the coronavirus insurance policy he hopes we never need

| Dominic Giannini
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Garran pop-up ED

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith was adamant that the facility would be used for COVID-19 patients. Photo: Supplied.

It looks like the $23 million pop-up emergency department (ED) at Garran Oval will not get as much of a workout as first thought after the ACT defied modelling and announced yesterday that there were no known active COVID-19 cases in the Territory.

It’s the second day in a row the ACT has been free of confirmed cases.

However, construction of the project – expected to be completed in mid-May – will continue despite the promising results, which could see the ED used to war-game potential pandemic outbreak scenarios.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith was adamant that the facility would be used, maintaining that it would remain a COVID-19-focused facility and will not be used for other purposes.

“We have been really clear that this is a COVID-19 facility, so what we use it for will be in response to the pandemic. But we have been talking about whether we leave the facility once it is constructed, ready to go as an ED, or whether we might be able to use it for some other things such as simulations,” she said.

“One of the things we have bought ourselves is time to train our ED staff, and our other hospital staff on how to support and treat COVID-19 patients, so one option might be to use that facility to do more simulation training.

“Another option might be to use it to do some respiratory assessment if we think we are ramping up our testing and we need more testing facility capacity, or we need more places for people to go and get tested.”

The decisions will depend on the Territory’s need, and the cost-effectiveness of each scenario as resources are most likely to come from Canberra Health Services staff, Ms Stephen-Smith said.

The Minister also defended the decision to spend the $23 million on the ED and continue with the project despite there being no active cases in the ACT, reiterating the Chief Minister’s concerns over the potential for a deadlier second wave.

The potential of a small number of cases exploding exponentially and overwhelming health systems within the space of a month, as has happened in countries like Spain, Italy and the US, was a major contributing factor to sticking to the original construction schedule, Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Construction is continuing at Garran

Construction for the pop-up COVID-19 emergency department on Garran Oval is continuing despite the ACT being the first jurisdiction to record no known active cases of the virus. Photo: Region Media.

“If we do see a second wave, we will watch really closely and see what it is looking like and how our physical distancing measures – which may have to be brought back down from some easing – what impact we think that is going to have, and we will act really early,” she said.

“The reason that we went ahead and built this facility is the same reason that we would be acting really early, to ensure that it was staffed appropriately if we thought we needed it.

“When we made this decision a few weeks ago, we did not know where we would be today, we did not know if we would be here, surprisingly with no active cases, or if we would continue to see an increase in cases of COVID-19.”

This reasoning was echoed by Chief Minister Andrew Barr in yesterday’s (1 May) COVID-19 committee hearings when questioned by the opposition over the cost of the project.

“We all hope that we never need to use that facility, but there is so much uncertainty in this regard that it would just be impossible not to have that as an insurance for our community, and indeed for southern NSW,” he said.

“We just did not know, in the context of making a judgement call, both when the process commenced and when the contract was signed, and even today, I would much rather have that facility not used, than to have not built it and have our system collapse.

“We will take out this insurance policy to save lives. I hope we do not have to use it, but if we do, we will be very glad to have made this decision.”

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HiddenDragon8:24 pm 02 May 20

Had the new hospital (not just the now-promised thing called SPIRE) been delivered in keeping with the 2016 election promise of “We can have light rail and a new hospital”, this might not have been necessary – but that promise was not kept (so unusual…..) so this is probably much better than doing nothing and hoping everything will be OK.

Good try but no. Even if Spire has of happened by now there still would have been a need for extra capacity like this.

russianafroman1:18 pm 02 May 20

Haha what a farce. Typical Barr with his ostentatious largesse. I’d respect him more if he’d just admit they got the modelling wrong and they overestimated the impact, instead of trying to rationalise his mistake.

It’s not over yet. All the experts including the ones that Barr haters say he should be listening to in relation to schools are saying that the virus ain’t going anywhere and that new cases and outbreaks are to be expected.

Those same experts the CMO in particular has stated all along what we have done this far with the flattening the curve mantra is to put to breaks on hard to hit it on the head and then release restrictions in a manner where (hopefully) outbreaks can be identified, isolated and treated more efficiently than what other places have experienced.

So I will repeat this ain’t over yet, not even by a long shot.

Twenty-three million dollars for a facility when there are no cases and no patients to treat.
But, bleat the loyal cadres, there might be cases, there might be a ‘second-wave,’ someone might get sick. They hope for new cases to justify their own paranoia.
Any new cases will be amongst the very elderly, at the end of their lives, who will die incarcerated in bleak understaffed, poorly resourced nursing homes, probably alone and forgotten by those happy to spend $23m on Garran Oval.

As I have said elsewhere even the federal experts, who btw contributed much of the funding for the facilities, and similar expansions in other states are saying they expect there to be further outbreaks in the future. And having facilities like this has been part of the the flattening the curve mantra and “program” the the federal government have by running for the past 2 months.

But hey it is all about Barr and waste isn’t it? I’m betting you and others would love for him to have done nothing, have a major outbreak and then gloat coming into an election he didn’t do anything. Right?

It’s really only a handful of hard core right-whingers who would object to having a good level of preparedness for a worse outcome than what we have seen so far. You sound almost disappointed that Canberra hasn’t had an encounter like what we’ve seen in many other capital cities with overwhelmed hospitals. Then you could vent the anti-Barr spleen. Oh well sorry to disappoint you Acton but, in this case, We have hoped for the best but prepared for the worst. A wise approach and most rational people are thankful for this.

“The make-shift, 68-bed tent field hospital set up in Central Park to help fight thecoronavirus pandemic will close by the second week of May, a source familiar with the phase-out told the [New York] Post.”

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