Four new community-health centres will be tailored to the needs of local communities to ease pressure on Canberra’s hospitals – or at least that’s the plan.
The ACT Government’s updated Health Infrastructure Plan was unveiled on Tuesday (4 July), with timelines outlined for hospital infrastructure and community-health centres over the next five years.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said moving the system towards keeping people well in the community would reduce pressure on Canberra’s public hospitals “where we can”.
She explained Canberra’s ageing population, the growing prevalence of chronic illness and the increasing number of people with multi-faceted and complex conditions meant a “multi-disciplinary” approach was needed to keep people well so they don’t require hospital care.
$16.6 million was allocated in the 2023-24 ACT Budget to progress work on four community-based health centres, which had been committed to during the 2020 election.
The money will be used to fund the design and construction of the South Tuggeranong Health Centre and begin planning and design work for the centres in the Inner South and North Gungahlin.
“We know that our current community-health centres are really bursting at the seams … so we really looked at those parts of Canberra where they don’t have those services,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“Particularly in South Tuggeranong, we’ve got funding in this budget to continue the development and to construct that facility close to the Lanyon Marketplace, recognising that we need to put our fantastic health professionals … closer to where people live.”
The plan reveals that the preferred sites for the community-health centres are Conder, Griffith, Ginninderry and Casey.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the different demographics of each area would be taken into account when deciding what services they would provide.
“There will be some consistent services that are the same across all the centres, and there’ll be some things that are really adjusted in partnership with our non-government organisations as well as our staff to meet the needs of those local communities,” she said.
Canberra Hospital’s new critical services building and northside hospital are headliners in the updated infrastructure plan.
A 20-year masterplan already exists for Canberra Hospital and the new northside hospital was an election commitment, but the plan outlines progress.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the government had always wanted to start work on a new north Canberra hospital by 2025 and to have it completed by 2030, and so the North Canberra Hospital coming under the government’s umbrella hadn’t changed that timeline.
“That was an election commitment that we made in 2020, that’s what we had been working towards, and that was what drove our decision-making timeline when we couldn’t reach an agreement with Calvary on how to do that in partnership,” she said.
“The decision needed to be made. We needed to progress that project.”
She said while the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t shift the timelines of projects, it had caused delays in getting some projects underway.
It also meant some extra measures were added to projects to “pandemic-proof” them for the future.
The government also didn’t express any concerns about being able to staff the facilities, with Ms Stephen-Smith stating work with universities and hospitals meant they were learning how to better attract and retain both graduates and experienced specialists.
Other projects outlined in the plan include:
- Expanding and upgrading endoscopy suites at the Canberra Hospital
- Developing a new acute palliative care ward at the Canberra Hospital, with construction expected to begin in late 2024
- The Watson Health Precinct to support youth mental health and alcohol and other drug services, as well as a residential rehabilitation service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, with construction expected to begin in 2024
- New pathology and clinical support building, with demolition and site works scheduled for completion in 2024
- Early planning for new inpatient buildings and a new multi-storey car park at the Canberra Hospital
- Final installation of new public medical imaging services by late 2024
- New pharmacy services at the Canberra Hospital, scheduled for completion later this year
- Beginning construction on the new Cancer Research Centre later this year, with expectations it will be complete in late 2024
- Eating Disorder Residential Treatment Centre
- Southside Hydrotherapy Pool, with the pool expected to be operational in the second half of 2024.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the health infrastructure plan was the second of seven updates to the 10-year Infrastructure Plans that had been released in 2019.
“What we’re doing this year and into the first part of next year is sector-by-sector updating the plan to reflect projects that have been delivered and to reflect projects that were, five years ago, in the medium-term and have come into the shorter term,” he said.
“What we will have in place then is a very clear pipeline for our infrastructure program in the short, medium and longer term.”
All updates will be announced ahead of next year’s budget, which is expected to be delivered towards the end of June 2024.