A man walks inside Cairns Hospital's Emergency Department which has seen a large influx of patients recently. PICTURE: JUSTIN BRIERTY
A man walks inside Cairns Hospital's Emergency Department which has seen a large influx of patients recently. PICTURE: JUSTIN BRIERTY

Shorten's hospital funding fix to grow emergency department

CAIRNS Hospital's emergency department will receive a much-needed expansion under a $15 million redevelopment plan by a Shorten government.

The ALP chose Prime Minister Scott Morrison's visit to Cairns yesterday to exclusively outline its pre-election commitment for the hospital with the Cairns Post.

Labor's federal health spokeswoman, Catherine King, is expected to be in the city today to announce the ED funding, on top of its $60 million pledge made yesterday, to help the hospital achieve tertiary level status.

The hospital has been experiencing growing pains after the ED treated a record 72,066 patients during 2018, more than 2500 than in 2017.

An independent review of the ED last year recommended high-priority infrastructure changes, such as increasing adult short-stay capacity, new paediatric short-stay capacity, bigger resuscitation beds, a fast-track zone, a redeveloped front-of-house, and a behavioural assessment room for mental health patients.

Ms King said the ED redevelopment would help address the critical health workforce shortage that risked undermining the quality of healthcare in the Far North.

"The emergency department redevelopment is something we can deliver in the next 12 to 24 months, delivering tangible health benefits to this community," she said.

"The redevelopment will improve safety for patients and staff alike and bring down wait times."

She said the expansion would include increasing adult short-stay capacity from eight to 16 beds, adding a four-bed paediatric short-stay unit, improving resuscitation bays and trauma treatment spaces, front-of-house improvements to provide dedicated space for ambulance offload, and better telehealth facilities.

"Population growth has made Cairns Hospital's ED one of the busiest in Queensland, with activity going up by 4 per cent each year," she said.

"In 2017-18, the number of presentations exceeded 70,000 for the first time. That's why we have to invest now."

Labor Leader Bill Shorten is expected to arrive in Cairns this week, as part of his "Bill Bus" Queensland tour. In the meantime Mr Shorten, who was at Bundaberg on his way to Cairns, has asked top Australian scientists to spend the next three weeks studying the mass fish kill in NSW.

Up to a million fish died in the Darling River at Menindee last week when a cool change swept through the region, killing off an existing algal bloom and depleting oxygen.

Mr Shorten has written to Professor John Shine, president of the Australian Academy of Science, saying Australians "deserve a speedy yet thorough examination of why this has taken place, based on the best possible science".

"My immediate priority is to uncover what has taken place, and ensure we have the scientific evidence before the Parliament to inform decisions for a healthy river system," Mr Shorten wrote.

He has asked for advice on how and what caused it, if chemicals and fertiliser played a part, and whether Murray-Darling water diversions or management had sparked or exacerbated the issue. He is also seeking advice on any possible "step change" to water inflows due to climate change.

Mr Shorten has requested a written report by February 10.