The construction of Byron Central Hospital will come in on time on budget, and 18 per cent ahead of the state’s energy saving targets, according to NSW Health Infrastructure.
The new hospital will have; a 24/7 emergency department with a medical officer always present; 43 inpatient beds in a combination of single and double rooms, a birthing unit; a 20-bed low-needs mental health unit; a specialist paediatrics room; medical imaging; chemotherapy; and co-located dental and allied health services.
But there will not be an operating theatre in the hospital when it opens and it could be up to five years coming, a community meeting at Byron at Byron resort heard last night (Wednesday November 4).
Theatre still in doubt
Northern NSW Local Health District CEO Chris Crawford said NSW Health had again examined the possibility of a public operating theatre but that ‘modelling found there would only be demand for one to 1.5 days a week’.
He said that the department had since ‘sounded out’ private interest and would be looking to commence an Expressions of Interest process ‘in the next couple of months’.
‘Once we get feedback from that process we can go out to tender,’ Mr Crawford said, claiming this would ‘allow us to ease into the project as well as giving us some guidance as to how it should be shaped and make it as commercially attractive as possible.’
Mr Crawford said that if and when the operating theatre is built, public patients would be treated there at the government’s expense.
The operating theatre would cost around $6-8 million for a private contractor to build, he said. But even if it wasn’t built in the short term, the groundwork would be laid for it to be added in the future.
Public private partnerships
Mr Crawford also admitted that the health district was examining other public private partnership possibilities but had ruled out onsite GP and/or dentist’s rooms.
He did reveal that the government was looking at a ‘hybrid’ public/private model for medical imaging, similar to a model that already exists at Tweed and Murwillumbah hospitals.
‘At Tweed, radiographers are public employees while radiologists (who interpret the results) are private contractors,’ he told the meeting.
‘Ultrasound is also operated privately,’ he added, but said the process would be ‘seamless’ as far as public patients were concerned.
His comments drew the ire of local Health Services Union boss Jonathan Millman, in the audience, who said the Tweed model had ‘failed’ and that as a result of the private sector paying staff less, medical imaging at Tweed ‘effectively runs from nine to five, Monday to Friday’.
Planning and performance officer for NNSW LHD, Maureen Lane, told the meeting that a staff meeting would be held within the next fortnight to unveil the workforce plan from the new hospital.
The majority of staff from Byron and Mullumbimby hospitals and Bangalow Community Health Centre, will move to the new site.
Ms Lane said a ‘minimal’ number of staff would ‘not be able to fit into the new design’, while emphasising that there would be a ‘number of new positions required including mental health professionals and emergency department specialists’ at the new hospital.
‘We are already looking at options as to how to place existing staff who won’t be offered positions at the hospital,’ she told the meeting.
Mr Crawford added that there would be ‘no forced redundancies and, we hope, no voluntary redundancies because we want to keep our skilled workforce in the region.’
Mullum hospital remediation
Mr Crawford said that the current Byron Bay Hospital and Bangalow Community Health Centre would be sold, ‘in line with current government policy to dispose of redundant assets’.
He said the health district had already talked to Byron Shire Council about the best way to go about the sales.
He added he had requested the government redirect money from the sales towards ‘the remediation of the Mullumbimby Hospital site and the removal of asbestos, which has been shown to be in soil around the site as well as in the fabric of the building.’
He said that no final decision had been taken as to whether to demolish the hospital but regardless of the site’s final use, ‘expert opinion is that in most cases it’s easier to demolish’.
Mr Crawford said that there would be a public consultation process before any final decision was taken on the sale of the site, which would not be free until the end of next year at the earliest.
‘We haven’t designed the consultation yet and we won’t necessarily consult on how we consult, but we may refer the issue to our community advisory council,’ he told the meeting.
‘Even if the site was kept in community ownership the remediation would need to take place first.’
He said that he would ‘not speculate’ on the future of the Mullumbimby birthing unit, which is not believed to contain asbestos, adding ‘it may suit us not to demolish everything but it’s important that whoever takes it over doesn’t have to worry about asbestos.’
The meeting wound up with a round of applause for construction manager Brendan Sweeney from builders Brookfield Multiplex for their work on the project and for holding a fundraising golf day that raised $60,000 that will be given to the auxiliary towards new equipment.
Project director Jeff Arthur, from Health Infrastructure, commended the auxiliary for advocating for the ‘best possible outcome’ throughout the process, advising them not to ‘dwell on’ the lack of an operating theatre at opening but to ‘look at the amazing, high-tech hospital that with your advocacy you’ve been able to achieve for your area.’
‘It’s the best we cold possibly get for you,’ he said.