ACT Government makes a mess of the hospital

Time to call out this government on health

On January 29, “CityNews” published a well-researched article about how the Woden Valley Hospital’s future had been mishandled and is now seriously hindered in its capacity to deliver to the people of Canberra.

The article by Jon Stanhope and Khalid Ahmed was a wake-up call. This matter affects all of us. But rather than just being shocked – we need to consider what should happen next.

In the last couple of years, I have had several occasions to access the services of the Woden Valley Hospital. I was impressed by the services offered, especially given that the Labor/Greens government is doing such a bad job of managing this portfolio. My comments are not to be taken as a criticism of the hospital’s dedicated staff.

The earlier article is backed up by references to documents published by former health minister Katy Gallagher. These are the 2008 planning documents that would have seen the hospital system overhauled, new facilities built and Canberra delivered a hospital that had a chance of coping with the increases in demand as then forecasted.

Instead, after she left for the Senate, her visionary plans were trashed, the monies re-allocated and over the years since the hospital has been run down.

There are many people who are responsible for this mess. This includes all in government and members of the ACT Greens and ACT Labor.

As the Canberra Liberals have not constantly highlighted this travesty, they too share some of the responsibility. The job of an effective opposition is to point out when such wickedness occurs. They have not been doing this. They were too busy going on about the tram as their priority issue, along with stories about death taxes and other distractions.

This government’s lack of care for the health and well-being of Canberra’s citizens has been added to with the ad hoc political decision to build a new facility (SPIRE) that will impinge on the lives of nearby Garran residents.

The proposed building will not meet the current demands. Real planning for the whole hospital campus could see a larger facility built elsewhere.

The thoughtless and opportunistic plonking of this new building is a result of the absence of comprehensive planning. Such planning was in place when Katy Gallagher held the portfolio. But when Andrew Barr took over the leadership, the campus planning was ignored for his own political priorities.

Barr was not alone. His government was enabled by the ACT Greens, and by the membership of the ACT Greens and ACT Labor. All of these people need to question their role in allowing this mess to happen and that they remain silent as the damage continues.

As things stand today (but there are months to go), there is a likelihood that ACT Labor will be returned at the October elections. Residents will be very annoyed with major parties if all we see this year is finger pointing and blame shifting while Barr and his cohort slip back in government and continue with business as usual.

This mess must be acknowledged as a serious error in judgement. The original master plan for the hospital campus needs to be revisited and sensible planning solutions put into action.

Government programs need to be re-examined and monies re-allocated to have the hospital funded to the highest level, and to secure its efficient operation for future generations.

My last word is to Canberra’s hard-working community councils. Please make the Woden Valley Hospital one of your highest advocacy points for this election year. It’s time to call out all involved with the mess being made of the Woden Valley Hospital, to ignore their spin and to demand things get fixed. The people of Canberra deserve better.

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This article was originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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