6 May 2021

Is the Canberra Hospital expansion the right medicine?

| Ian Bushnell
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Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith is willing the project to succeed. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The long-running Canberra Hospital expansion saga is getting to the business end with a development application lodged this week that makes some important improvements, particularly in the new Emergency Department.

The project, a 2016 election promise, saw off one Health Minister, but Rachel Stephen-Smith, perhaps steeled by the relentless media focus on COVID-19, appears ready to will this one over the line.

She has also listened to what clinicians and the public have been saying, boosting the ED capacity to double the current one, adding more green spaces to the project, and more parking.

The community angst over the ambulance drop-off moving to Palmer Street via Gilmore Crescent has resulted in changes that officials say will means less traffic in suburban streets. However, Garran Primary School and residents will still have to put their faith in the professionalism of drivers delivering patients.

The minister has faced sustained pressure over ED waiting times, so the extra 33 spaces to a total of 147 are welcome, but she also says that the new facility will be smarter, with better patient flows to reduce bed block.

Let’s hope so, but if you take officials at their word, the Canberra Hospital Expansion will deliver a more integrated and connected facility based on modern hospital design and practices.

Ms Stephen-Smith says it has been an opportunity to start from scratch and get it right.

Certainly, the designs show a hospital that delivers clinical settings, discreet links for patient transfer, cleaner lines than the current rabbit warren and a range of outdoor spaces that acknowledge the power of nature as a healing force.

Courtyards for paediatrics and mental health patients and landscaped spaces to give respite to patients, staff and visitors will mean a less industrial complex than before.

The Minister also points out the expansion is but one, although the biggest, of many projects underway around the campus that all feed into each other.

READ MORE Emergency Department boosted in Canberra Hospital Expansion plans

But will it be big enough? Critics have attacked the government for underfunding the health system and said that this project will not deliver the capacity needed by a growing Canberra.

Officials beg to differ. This is big, they say, with enough built-in space to cater for growth into the future.

The contractor, Multiplex, is experienced at hospital delivery, with this project a smaller version of its massive Westmead development in Sydney, and it is behind the roughly three-year timeline.

But officials acknowledge that hospitals are complex projects where many things can go wrong. The Royal Adelaide Hospital is a case in point, and officials say many lessons from that project over-run have been incorporated into this one.

Asked if she will see the project through to completion, Ms Stephen-Smith said it was up to Chief Minister Andrew Barr where she served in cabinet, but there were many health projects ongoing that would keep her busy.

Later in the year, work proper will finally begin on a project that seemed like it would never actually happen. Canberrans have had enough of the politics and just want the government to get on with it.

If the tone of Ms Stephen-Smith at a hospital press conference is any indication, no one better get in her way.

But come 2024, an election year, if the end is not in sight, she will need all her energies to weather the storm.

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It would be half the size if it only looked after Canberra. Just saying

ChrisinTurner1:06 pm 07 May 21

When did the Stanhope plan expect this expansion to be finished? 5 years ago?

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