The hydrotherapy pool at the Canberra Hospital will stay open after Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris yielded to a concerted community campaign backed by the Canberra Liberals.
The pool was due to close at the end of June, with users expected to travel to the new purpose-built facility at the University of Canberra Hospital in Bruce but this raised issues for people on the southside, particularly those with mobility issues and needing to use public transport.
The Liberals launched a petition and Opposition health spokesperson Vicki Dunne brought the issue into the Legislative Assembly today (Wednesday) where Ms Fitzharris responded to her motion calling on the Government to keep the pool open until a replacement could be provided on the south side.
With members of Arthritis ACT looking on from the gallery, Ms Fitzharris moved an amendment for the Government to agree not to close the Canberra Hospital pool until an appropriate level of access at other suitable locations on the southside can be continued.
It also called on the Government to continue to work with stakeholders to include their input in work under way to determine the current demand and usage of hydrotherapy and warm-water facilities across the ACT.
The report on that work, being conducted by the Nous Group, is due in mid-June and the Government is to report back to the Assembly by the last sitting day in August.
Contention over appropriate water temperatures for hydrotherapy and warm water exercises prompted Mrs Dunne to move a further amendment that water be heated in the range of 34-36 degrees C, which was accepted.
Ms Fitzharris told the Assembly that the Government had decided to close the ageing pool for safety and maintenance reasons, which presented risks to users and staff.
She said the Government had believed that there had been agreement in the community that rehabilitation services would be relocated to the new sub-acute University of Canberra Hospital, where there is a state of the art hydrotherapy pool which mirrors arrangements at the Canberra Hospital.
But she acknowledged a significant increase in the number of people requiring hydrotherapy, 40 per cent in the past three months, and said the current work by the Nous Group would seek to understand that growth in demand and how to meet it, including assessing the supply of facilities in the ACT.
“If we do need to increase access to services the Government will do that,” she said.
Ms Fitzharris said the Government would ensure any private facilities used and their water temperatures were appropriate.
Mrs Dunne said the Minister had folded like a pack of cards and the Opposition would be holding her to account, particularly on providing facilities that were appropriately heated.
“This is great news for every hydrotherapy pool user in Canberra’s south,” Mrs Dunne said.
“I still do not understand why the Health Minister wanted to unfairly discriminate against health patients in Canberra’s south.
“It was wrong for Ms Fitzharris to put people in Canberra’s south through this stressful ordeal.”
There had been suggestions that the new Stromlo Leisure Centre due to be completed in 2020 would be able to host hydrotherapy sessions but it will be heated to 31-32 degrees C, which will only be suitable for some warm water activities.