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Byron Shire
June 7, 2023

Cramped Ballina Hospital operating theatre needs replacing: mayor

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Ballina Hospital was built in the 1970s under the Whitlam RED scheme.
Ballina Hospital was built in the 1970s under the Whitlam RED scheme.

Chris Dobney

Ballina mayor David Wright won’t rest until he sees a promised new operating theatre opened at Ballina Hospital.

A federal government offer to replace the sole, ageing and cramped theatre at the hospital, built under the Whitlam RED scheme in the mid-70s, was the result of an election promise by Page MP Kevin Hogan.

But after months of meetings with architects Cr Wright has reached the conclusion that there simply isn’t enough money in the kitty to do a proper job.

The mayor told Echonetdaily the existing theatre is less than half the standard size of modern ones and does not comply with flood mitigation rules required of new buildings in areas potentially affected by climate change.

Cr Wright believes an extra $2.3 million on top of the promised $4 million would provide a new theatre that complied in every respect.

‘It would deliver a brand new operating theatre and it would keep the existing operating theatre – so we’d have two theatres. The new building would comply with all modern flood height requirements and it would allow at a future date a second [new] operating theatre to be put on, because they build in modules these days,’ Cr Wright said.

He argued that the $4 million that was given by the federal government ‘won’t even do a full refurbishment and then that would have to be [later] knocked down because that would be in the inside of an old building.

‘That building was built under the RED scheme and even though it’s had a lot of money spent on it since, you wouldn’t put $4 million into upgrading it.

‘Hopefully we can get the money. If we can’t get the money… I just don’t want to see it wasted, that’s all,’ Cr Wright said.

He added that given the amount of money being spent on long-overdue upgrades at Lismore Base Hospital, a couple of extra million dollars to do a proper job at Ballina seemed very little to ask for.

‘At the moment they’re spending a whole heap of money at Lismore, and that’s fantastic because Lismore Hospital needs it, but Ballina Shire has the same number of people as Lismore and we have an operating theatre that’s 25 square metres and the new standard is 55. It’s not as though it’s close. It needs replacing,’ he said.

Cr Wright is now knocking on every door he can to see if the money can be found.

‘I’ve spoken to Kevin [Hogan], I’ve spoken to the premier and the department of premier and cabinet, the health secretary. I’ve spoken to everyone I can speak to just to let them know.

He described the costings as ‘spot on’.

‘I’ve been to six meetings – and most of them go half a day – so there’s been a lot of planning, a lot of drawings, a lot of models and this is virtually the cheapest one that will provide a new operating theatre – and that’s what the money was given for.’

He said that Mr Hogan was ‘sympathetic’ to the argument ‘but I don’t know that there’s a bucket of money at the moment’.

He added that Northern NSW Local Health District CEO Chris Crawford said ‘they would look at the plans and try and hone them down a bit but I think that’s going to be pretty hard because we’ve been actually talking to the people who do all the costings and they don’t believe you could do that, so I’m just hoping that more money can be found’.

Mr Crawford warned on ABC radio this morning of the prospect of what he called ‘scope creep’ ramping up costs.

But Cr Wright denied this was an issue.

‘There’s no scope creep. The costings were done on the basis that the new building has to be raised in height. It’s got to have new compliances to build a new theatre. But we’ve been told definitely that the cost per square metre to refurbish is much more expensive than to build new. And you’d still be wasting that money,’ he said.

Mr Hogan was unavailable for comment as he was attending a funeral.

Mr Crawford did not return Echonetdaily’s requests for comment.

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