Fresh doubts have emerged around the future of Adelaide’s new Women’s and Children’s Hospital (nWCH) project, after the state government revealed it was prepared to move away from the proposed site.
- Health Minister Chris Picton said the estimated cost of the project had surged above $2 billion
- The Liberals have hit back, accusing the new government of “manufacturing cost blowouts”
- It comes as staff at the existing site are given a glimpse of the proposed future building, with the help of a cardboard model
The government has blamed what it described as a $100 million cost blowout for the uncertainty, saying the extra cost was confirmed under the former government prior to the March election, but not made public — a claim the Liberals have rejected.
Major construction works at the Adelaide railyards site, next to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH), were due to begin later this year, after Lendlease was announced as the builder in February.
Mr Picton said the expected cost of the project was now in excess of $2 billion — significantly more than the $1.95 billion previously forecast and now approaching the $2.3 billion cost of the new RAH, which was reported to be Australia’s most expensive building when it opened in 2017.
“In terms of the site, we absolutely will be checking to make sure that this is the appropriate site, looking at other sites in the precinct that were considered [by] the previous government,” he said.
“[There are] a range of complexities on that site — it’s quite a small footprint of land, it’s a triangular footprint, there are construction difficulties associated with it.
Mr Picton said the $100 million cost increase was on top of Labor’s commitment to fit an extra 50 beds into the hospital, which remains government policy.
The Health Minister said that if another potential site were to be identified, it was not necessarily the case that the government would seek to relocate the project.
“If there is work that’s identified that suggests that another site is preferable, then that would need to be weighed up against the additional costs of that,” Mr Picton said.
Cardboard model gives staff a glimpse of future
The nWCH project has been no stranger to controversy in recent months, with doctors delivering a scathing review of the consultation process last year.
In a bid to assuage those doubts, a cardboard mock-up of a new ward at the nWCH has been set up in the basement of the current Women’s and Children’s Hospital, giving staff the opportunity to get a sense of what the new project would look like.
“We’ve been seeing it on paper for some time now so it’s nice to get an idea of what the rooms are actually going to be like,” obstetrician Aimee Wiltshire said.
But retired obstetrician Warren Jones, from campaign group the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Alliance, said staff he had spoken to remain dissatisfied not only with the consultation process but with the proposed new building.
“Certainly there is a big degree of unhappiness amongst all of the senior people, because they can see it’s not going to be big enough,” Professor Jones said.
“The intensive care unit is on a different floor to the operating theatres — no-one builds a hospital that’s got that sort of a problem.
“What they could do, if they persevere with the current plan — but it’s going to cost money — is try and redesign the building where they can do some more infill and fit more in … or move more services into the RAH.”
The previous Liberal government committed to a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital alongside the RAH around the time of the 2018 state election.
But the prospect of moving was first flagged before the 2014 election by the Weatherill Labor government, with the backing of the Australian Medical Association.
Labor abandoned that pledge prior to the 2018 election, instead committing to building new but separate women’s and children’s hospitals, with the former to go on the railyards site.
The opposition has today hit back at Labor’s claims of an undisclosed $100 million blowout, saying that “dark clouds hover above the viability of Labor’s promises”.
“Labor needs to come clean and let South Australians know whether the briefs they have received since coming to Government support their cost estimates for their Women’s and Children’s Hospital commitments.”
The new hospital has previously been tipped to open to patients in 2027.