29 September 2022

COVID-19 walk-in clinic on the move as surge centre's future still up for debate

| Lottie Twyford
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Garran Surge Centre, COVID-19, Coronavirus, ACT Health, nurse Photo: Michelle Kroll

The COVID-19 Clinic will be moved to Weston Creek following what health authorities have described as a reduction in demand as cases have dropped. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

From today, the COVID-19 clinic will be run out of the Weston Creek Community Health Centre as the future of the Garran Surge Centre remains up for discussion.

The clinic is currently operating out of the $14 million temporary hospital in Garran, but health authorities have acknowledged a reduction in demand in recent months as case numbers have dropped.

It was first opened in January this year as COVID-19 case numbers surged to new highs driven by the spread of the Omicron variant.

In line with this, the Weston clinic will now be open from 2 pm to 10 pm and operate at a “reduced capacity”.

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The clinic will continue to provide non-urgent health care for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and need either support to manage their symptoms or treatment for other non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses, a spokesperson for Canberra Health Services said.

No appointment will be needed to attend and there is no cost associated with accessing its services.

Separate entrances will be provided for this clinic and the Weston Creek Walk-in Centre which is located in the same building so COVID-positive patients are kept separate.

“We will continue to monitor demand of the COVID-19 Clinic to ensure we keep meeting the needs of the community,” Canberra Health Services said.

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COVID-19 testing will continue to be available at Garran.

A spokesperson for the government said it continually reviews its COVID-19 response services to ensure they remain appropriate, “this includes the availability of free and accessible COVID-19 testing services”, the spokesperson said.

It’s unclear if and when the surge centre, which was constructed on an oval in 2020, will be dismantled.

Earlier this year, the Territory’s Opposition questioned whether the centre, which was never used for its declared purpose, represented value for money for the taxpayer.

In 2020, the centre was built as an extension of the hospital to manage an expected increase in seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

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At the time, the government contracted Aspen Medical to staff and operate the facility, but the wave of COVID-19 patients didn’t eventuate in 2020 or 2021 as the Territory escaped high caseloads and hospitalisations.

That initial contract has now lapsed and CHS Chief Operating Officer Cathie O’Neill commented in July the centre didn’t provide particularly good accommodation for seriously ill patients who require overnight care, nor did it have the right facilities to do so.

Even when the ACT did experience high hospitalisations earlier this year, the hospital said the majority of COVID-19 patients in hospital were there for other reasons and it would not be practical to have them all in one space.

At the time, a hospital spokesperson said the pressure on the hospital system was largely caused by staff absences and not enough beds within the system, not a lack of acute emergency care.

Some staff members have been diverted from their usual roles at Walk-in Centres to operate the COVID-19 clinic.

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At the time that it was first built, the local community was assured by government that the facility was a temporary one that would only be in place whilst the public health emergency declaration was active. As the emergency declaration has now ended, it is time for the surge centre to be decommissioned and the oval remediated and returned to the community.

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