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

Dominic Giannini 2 May 2020 60
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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60 Responses to Barr defends pop-up ED, the coronavirus insurance policy he hopes we never need
HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:24 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.

    JC JC 1:13 pm 03 May 20

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

Gil Maher Gil Maher 5:04 pm 02 May 20

Stop winging and get on board.

Daniel Howell Daniel Howell 4:23 pm 02 May 20

You never know might need it

Domenic Fabbo Domenic Fabbo 2:58 pm 02 May 20

Don’t think I’d be able to afford to use it even if I did come down with the dreaded virus 🦠

Coralee Flood Coralee Flood 2:46 pm 02 May 20

So glad they've gone ahead with this. There's no way this is over for us yet!

April Littrell April Littrell 2:16 pm 02 May 20

even if it's not used for Covid, here's a massive homeless shelter!

    Jessy Watson Jessy Watson 6:54 pm 02 May 20

    April Littrell oh that’s a wonderful idea

Rheyce Spears Rheyce Spears 2:15 pm 02 May 20

Sensible decision by the ACT Government. We’ve all seen what is happening around the world in places that haven’t prepared. This is being prepared, and in the very possible scenario we get a second, much larger wave of cases, this hospital will save lives.

I’d rather have to pay a bit extra tax over the coming years if the alternative is possibly seeing an older relative die because we weren’t ready.

If you think this is a waste of money, you probably need your head read.

russianafroman russianafroman 1:18 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.

    JC JC 7:00 pm 02 May 20

    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.

Acton Acton 12:37 pm 02 May 20

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.

    JC JC 7:03 pm 02 May 20

    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?

    astro2 astro2 5:41 pm 03 May 20

    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.

Karen Nicholson Karen Nicholson 11:27 am 02 May 20

And if we have it, we can invent uses for it post-pandemic. Simples.

    Peter Bojkowski Peter Bojkowski 12:00 pm 02 May 20

    Karen Nicholson Its specifically a temporary facility for the term of the pandemic

    Karen Nicholson Karen Nicholson 12:13 pm 02 May 20

    Peter Bojkowski Old Parly House was temporary. Maybe it can't stay, but it would be good if, while it exists, we get to be creative (if it isn't used for the pandemic response).

    Mark McDermott Mark McDermott 9:20 pm 02 May 20

    Karen Nicholson the ones built in china were built for SARS and put in storage.

Sarah Warren Sarah Warren 11:12 am 02 May 20

Thank you ACT Government.

Kylee Anne Kylee Anne 10:59 am 02 May 20

At this time of the year both Canberra EDs start to become full of flu cases and each winter people complain that the ACT Government isn’t doing enough and should build another hospital. I think it’s a good idea considering we are heading to into flu season!! Regardless what the reason behind this pop-up hospital is for, it will help during the flu season with the backlog of patients.

    Imants Ezergailis Imants Ezergailis 11:56 am 02 May 20

    Kylee Anne : Spot on! So why is Barr obfuscating on the matter?? Suggests other motives?? 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️

Monty Ki Monty Ki 10:49 am 02 May 20

I am sooooo glad ACT Government have put money into this facility and I am glad that we don't currently need to use it. Sadly, we may still need it over the next year or two... hopefully we don't ever need to use it. That's the real win for the community. Having this facility and NOT NEEDING IT. It shows we are prepared. Imagine the other scenario - like Italy.

Gerda Lawrence Gerda Lawrence 10:47 am 02 May 20

I would rather have it and not be used than need it and have nothing in place

Alex Troy Elsworth Adkins Alex Troy Elsworth Adkins 10:44 am 02 May 20

Tough one isn't it because if they don't do this and the infection rate kept increasing we would be complaining they haven't done enough. Now we complain they have done too much....

Shane Reid Shane Reid 10:39 am 02 May 20

Good idea,

Kay Jones Kay Jones 10:30 am 02 May 20

Typical Labor. Bring on the election.

    Kieran Angus Kieran Angus 10:33 am 02 May 20

    Kay Jones yeah typical labour, planning for the future.

    Peter Bojkowski Peter Bojkowski 12:08 pm 02 May 20

    Kay Jones Lol, guessing your a month piece for Coe

    Jesse Mahoney Jesse Mahoney 1:06 pm 02 May 20

    The way this situation has been handled has bought Barr another term lol. Public support for him is higher now.

Sue Steve Mil Sue Steve Mil 10:24 am 02 May 20

We can say goodbye to Garran oval. Surprise the Greens allowed this.

    Dusanka Stankovic Dusanka Stankovic 11:08 am 02 May 20

    Sue Steve Mil it won’t be forever

    Peter Bojkowski Peter Bojkowski 11:59 am 02 May 20

    Sue Steve Mil it's a temporary facility until this thing blows over

    Katherine Thorogood Katherine Thorogood 12:53 pm 02 May 20

    Sue Steve Mil of course a green sports oval is more important than human life.... 😳

    Sue Steve Mil Sue Steve Mil 2:49 pm 02 May 20

    Katherine Thorogood That’s not what I said. 😠However if you’re worried about human life then why put it next to a primary school!

    Jorge Gatica Jorge Gatica 5:14 pm 02 May 20

    Smart move by Barr, 23 million re-election campaign paid by the rate payers

    Scott Humphries Scott Humphries 7:28 pm 02 May 20

    I think that the oval will make way for future hospital development sooner or later.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:40 pm 04 May 20

    Sue Steve Mil Why are you saying that but to make a political point? Others realise that if this facility is needed because of a surge in cases, the school won't be open and students won't be there. If you want to be taken seriously, keep politics out of this. This crisis is too important for your failed attempted political point scoring.

rsm1105 rsm1105 10:16 am 02 May 20

“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.”

Liu Rui Liu Rui 10:12 am 02 May 20

We need it to stay there for at least a year to cover potential seasonality of Covid. It’s a must have if we *prepare* to ease restrictions. All respiratory illnesses should go there, just in case there is a highly contagious Covid case.

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