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On point: Is Palaszczuk's billion dollar health injection sharpening reform?

Politics

Bundaberg, Cairns and Townsville will share nearly $2 billion in state health funding, with the Palaszczuk Government priming the post-budget pump to funnel dollars into new buildings and additional beds.

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Bundaberg tops the allocation, with $1.2 billion directed towards the construction of a new hospital.

Cairns Hospital will receive $250 million to upgrade the current facility with an additional 141 beds, while Townsville University Hospital has been slated to deliver an extra 143 beds by 2026 at a cost of $503 million.

The funding details unveiled by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Health Minister Yvette D’Ath after being announced in last week’s state budget, have been described as being part of the “largest investment in hospitals and beds in Queensland’s history”.

The spending spree comes amid sustained pressure on the government to urgently relieve the health system’s stress points, particularly clogged emergency departments, staff shortages and deficient services.

There’s speculation in some circles the three locations were chosen in regions where the government could be facing headwinds electorally.

Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates said the big ticket announcements would have little benefit for people living further off the coast.

“Labor’s track record on regional health is appalling,” she said.

“Queensland mums have given birth on the side of the Warrego Highway, hospitals in Western Queensland are left to run without doctors and many regional hospitals don’t have basic services like a CT scanner.

“For seven years the State Government has destroyed the health system and they want another seven years to fix it.”

Health experts who have spoken to InQueensland on background, say the government’s priorities are sound.

Bundaberg, they say, has been under-serviced and under strain for decades, and caters to a massive geographical footprint.

The closest large hospitals near to Bundaberg, which can deliver more complex treatments and procedures, are Sunshine Coast to the south and Rockhampton to the north.

Health experts also acknowledge that building better infrastructure is a key strategy in attracting and retaining adequate skilled workforce.

Upgrading Cairns Hospital, as the State’s largest referral facility for highly disadvantaged communities on Cape York and Torres Strait, is also essential to addressing large gaps in health equity.

Local advice expressed to InQueensland says the next part of the plan should be focused on returning more procedural services outlying sites such as Atherton, Mareeba, Innisfail and Mossman to take further strain off Cairns.

Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president, Dr Matt Masel, said the best way to improve health outcomes for rural and remote Queenslanders was to “bring care close to home”.

“Regional hospitals have a role to play in this, however, rural and remote facilities have waited many budgets for their turn,” he said.

“Infrastructure, workforce and services all go hand in hand. You can’t attract the workforce you need to deliver the services you deserve if you have outdated infrastructure.”

Palaszczuk said the build at Bundaberg would start on a new site next year, with the project due for completion in late 2027.

“This is a significant development for Bundaberg – creating jobs, easing pressure on the Wide Bay health service and ensuring locals have better access to care when and where they need it,” she said.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the facility would add an additional 121 beds, relieving the “significant demand pressures” the region has felt in the last two years.

“The population is growing, it’s ageing, and more people are presenting with more complex conditions than ever before,” D’Ath said.

Member for Bundaberg Tom Smith said the new hospital would create about 2887 jobs during construction.

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Board (WBHHB) chair Peta Jamieson said the investment provided an opportunity for significant expansion to healthcare services within the region.

“It will also provide a substantial boost to the local economy, not only with the provision of construction jobs and additional clinical and support services once the new hospital is open, but also broader flow-on economic benefits that are delivered to the entire region,” she said.

The Cairns upgrade has promised to deliver an extra 45 beds in the second half of next year, and a further 96 beds by the first half of 2026.

Seniors Minister and Member for Barron River Craig Crawford said the expansion would complement other hospital projects that have been recently completed or are currently under way, including the Cairns Hospital Mental Health Unit, the Cairns Emergency Department expansion and the Mossman Hospital Emergency Department upgrade.

Speaker of the Queensland Parliament and Member for Mulgrave Curtis Pitt said the construction phase would create 611 jobs.

The spend on Bundaberg and Cairns is part of $9.78 billion allocated in last week’s state budget to delivering new hospitals and new beds across the state.

“The new hospitals and hospital expansion projects announced in the Budget will deliver 2509 extra beds across Queensland, in addition to the 869 beds being delivered through our current expansion projects,” D’Ath said.

“This builds on the 1350 additional beds we’ve opened across the state since 2015.”

 

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