Councillor David Lee with Hervey Bay Hospital in the background. Photo: Stuart Fast
Councillor David Lee with Hervey Bay Hospital in the background. Photo: Stuart Fast

Build best hospital here, not Bundy says Coast councillor

POOR planning, a growing population and a focus on building Bundaberg's Level 5 hospital risks putting the future of Fraser Coast patients in jeopardy.

This is the warning from Fraser Coast Councillor David Lee who says a background in high-level planning and health has raised red flags with Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service's current path.

He believes there's cause to press pause on the current commitment to build a Level 5 hospital one and a half hours away amid fears it will distract from addressing the challenges on the Fraser Coast which, in the next decade, faces "substantial healthcare, safety and capacity issues".

"This makes no sense when Fraser Coast has a projected population increase of 27.5% over the next 20 years, high rates of chronic disease and is geographically better suited for a Level 5 regional service," he said

"No amount of ad hoc construction at the Hervey Bay Hospital can substitute for a well-considered strategic service and capital masterplan."

Cr Lee believes health planners in the 90s likely seriously underestimated Hervey Bay's population growth and as a result, the site was now 'land locked'.

He wants to see a preliminary business case, within the next couple of years, on the feasibility of relocating the Bay hospital to a greenfield site, potentially the current Tafe campus which is still on Urraween Rd and within the health precinct.

"There are constraints on the flexible use of the land- there are also limitations on the future expansion of the buildings to meet the health needs of our growing population.

"Any future on-site construction is unlikely to be fit for purpose and is likely to be improvised and inefficient."

His comments came on Wednesday as Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service Board Chair Peta Jamieson briefed Hervey Bay's chamber of commerce on the service's five-year strategic plan.

This included plans for a new Bundaberg Hospital that would expand the number and complexity of specialist services closer to home for all Wide Bay patients, some of which currently require patients to travel to Brisbane.

WBHHS has also maintains it's invested heavily in the Fraser Coast in recent years, committing to a $39.61 million, 22-bed mental health acute inpatient unit in Hervey Bay and a repurposed 10-bed inpatient facility at Maryborough Hospital focusing on older people's mental health, the $44.66 million Hervey Bay Hospital Emergency Department and refurbishment of the old ED into a new 19-bed medical unit, $12.19 million upgrade to Maryborough Hospital's emergency and specialist outpatient departments and refurbishment of the previous education and training building to create a new nine-room outpatient clinic area at Hervey Bay Hospital specifically for women's and children's appointments.

The redevelopment of the Bundaberg hospital has long been on the wish list for the people of the Rum City and is seen as a fresh start post Patel which replaces century-old buildings with modern infrastructure and ensures there isn't a repeat of the past when patients and staff had to be evacuated amid floods.

It was also a key campaigning platform for Labor in consecutive state elections.

Cr Lee believes too much is hanging on a political promise rather than a common sense comparison of where the need is greatest.

He also said the current pressure on the region's hospitals, including the recently upgraded emergency departments, suggested WBHHS continued to underestimate the growing Fraser Coast population.

Ms Jamieson told the Chronicle the strategic plan identified the need for new infrastructure across "our entire service region".

"We continue to review our high-demand, priority healthcare services based on current and projected populations to ensure it offered the right care, in the right place, at the right time," she said

"We acknowledge the Fraser Coast's growing and ageing population. It's a high priority for us to manage future growth at our Hervey Bay and Maryborough hospitals, and our vision for the Fraser Coast is driven by building capacity in the medium to long term through infrastructure planning and delivery, as well as reviewing our models of care.

"Our Fraser Coast hospitals also continue to work in partnership and collaboration with each other, sharing resources and maximising service delivery and the use of available space to optimise care across the two facilities."

Ms Jamieson also insisted developing a business case to investigate a new hospital in Bundaberg didn't deny the importance of the Fraser Coast communities but "it's important for our Board and HHS to take a whole-of-region approach to infrastructure planning and service delivery".

Cr Lee however said the position of WBHHS effectively made the case for the Fraser Coast to have its own health service and wanted to see regional service borders that aligned with Local Government Areas along with apolitical board appointments.

The region's hospitals were grouped in with Bundaberg when the population of the Wide Bay as a whole and in particular, the Fraser Coast, was significantly smaller than it is now.

In the absence of Queensland Health reviewing its service borders however, Cr Lee said while WBHHS may be responsible for overseeing the whole region, local leaders who were elected to represent Hervey Bay and Maryborough had a responsibility to ensure health care was a priority here, not in Bundaberg.

Ms Jamieson said WBHHS always "welcomed community and staff input" and had conducted roadshows and community consultations on infrastructure along with providing opportunities for locals to be part of reference groups.

Cr Lee said if WBHHS was serious about good governance and adopting the principles of "My Health, Queensland's future: Advancing Health 2026" it would also welcome community discussion and debate about a level 5 capital Hospital project in Hervey Bay and Maryborough.

"There is an inextricable link between a well-designed and fit for purpose hospital site and effective and safe patient care," he said

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*This is Cr Lee's personal opinion and not a Fraser Coast Regional Council Policy or statement. When speaking with the Chronicle, Councillor Lee said: "I served as an Australian Regular Army Medic and operating theatre specialist, registered nurse and health service executive and have qualifications in nursing, commerce, law and governance. I have nearly 30 years in health services experience."