27 September 2020

Libs pledge $120 million to half surgery waiting times, reconfigure Canberra Hospital expansion

| Dominic Giannini
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Giulia Jones, Alistair Coe and Vicki Dunne

Liberals health spokesperson Vicki Dunne (right), leader Alistair Coe (centre) and assistant health spokesperson Giulia Jones (left) have announced a $120 million boost to Canberra’s health services. Photo: Supplied.

A $120 million injection into the Territory’s health system to reduce emergency department waiting times and increase its elective surgery capacity will address the “deepening crisis in our health system”, according to the Canberra Liberals.

The Liberals have also pledged to hire 400 more health staff – 200 of whom will be nurses – and double the surgical capacity of the Canberra Hospital with an extra eight hybrid operating theatres on top of the eight set to be constructed during the hospital’s expansion, bringing the total to 30.

Under the Liberals’ plan, 70,000 elective surgeries will be performed over the next four years, 16,000 more than in the four years to 2019 and 10,000 more than what Labor has promised to deliver in the same term.

Elective surgery waiting times will be halved by 2024 while access to the surgical and emergency centre for emergency vehicles will also be moved to Yamba Drive rather than Palmer Street in a reconfiguration to the current Canberra Hospital expansion plans (formerly known as SPIRE), the Liberals say.

“There will be no delays, there will be a 12-month redesign process and then we will commence,” assistant health spokesperson Giulia Jones said.

“We will have this building opened in the same timeframe the [Barr] Government committed to. The 12 months is already built into the government’s current plans so there is still a design process that is going on for 12 months under the government, and under us.”

READ MORE $13.5 million to expand Canberra Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit

Liberals health spokesperson Vicki Dunne says enticements for more surgeons and health workers to come to the ACT and address the shortfall will be offered to deal with the elective surgery waitlist.

“One of the things is we tend to use operating theatres from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is nothing to stop us operating a twilight list as well, especially when you are doing day procedures or a weekend list,” she said.

“To bust the list we will be bringing in locums for a particular period of time – and they are available – and they will come if we provide the right opportunities and the right facilities for them to work in.

“We will be working with private employers and private contractors to make sure that we get those people here doing the surgeries that we need to do.”

Pressure will also be taken off the waiting list through an extra 30,000 specialist outpatient appointments, Ms Dunne said.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith labelled the plan as farcical by an outgoing and unaccountable health spokesperson who is not re-contesting the election.

“What the Liberals have promised is simply not achievable; it is a promise you make when you are walking out the door when your inexperienced leader cannot stand up to you and say ‘can we really do this if we are elected?’,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Rachel Stephen-Smith and an ACT Health worker

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith (left) says the Liberals’ plan is farcical and unachievable. Region Media.

Ms Stephen-Smith said elective surgery in the ACT has already increased at twice rate of the national average over the last five years and that the Liberals’ promise for 70,000 surgeries, as opposed to Labor’s 60,000, is not adequately funded under the current proposition.

Labor estimates an extra $60 million will be needed on top of the Liberals’ current allocation of $120 million to reach 70,000 surgeries.

READ ALSO ED, hospital presentations down but overnight mental health admissions increase during COVID-19

“If the current collection of conservative Canberra Liberals had ever had to be responsible for a major infrastructure project, then they would know that this half-baked idea will set the project back for years – and puts thousands of local jobs at risk,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“Adding new access for emergency vehicles would require a major design of the project.

“They have not consulted with the clinicians, with the successful tenderer or the community.”

The expansion would inevitably be pushed back under the Liberals’ proposal as the tender is due to be released early next year for a mid-2021 sod turn, Ms Stephen-Smith said.

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