Public Works Committee: Women’s and Children’s Hospital Upgrade Sustainment Program


The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:25): It is my pleasure to speak on the 12th report of the Public Works Committee, entitled Women’s and Children’s Hospital Upgrade Sustainment Program. I am not a member of that committee, but I think it is a very important topic. Health is always very important, and a centre of excellence in health is always very important. Of course, the health of children, and thereby of connected women, is also incredibly important.

I am sure this is something all members in this chamber would take a great interest in. As we have heard from previous speakers who are on the committee, this is about the fulfilment of an election commitment we made last year under the leadership of the now Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Hon. Stephen Wade, in another place. This is a project that had been contemplated by the former government; in fact, I believe it had actually been committed to by the former government but not delivered.

It is very important that we are here today in parliament debating this report of the Public Works Committee. The reason we are doing so is that the project has been put to the Public Works Committee, and the reason that has happened is that we are going to deliver on our commitment: we are going to have a new women’s and children’s hospital co-located with the Royal Adelaide Hospital and operating in 2024. Not only is it a very important project for South Australians but it is also very important to note that we are going to deliver on this election commitment for the people of South Australia.

In the interim, between now and then, we will continue to be very grateful for the absolutely outstanding work done in the existing Women’s and Children’s Hospital there in North Adelaide opposite the landmark cathedral. We are not going to drop the ball at the current hospital. We are going to ensure the necessary investment is made in the existing facility over the next few years. While the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital is being built, the existing Women’s and Children’s Hospital will have investment made into it so that the men and women who work there can continue the excellent work they do in that facility. I believe in the order of $50 million will still be invested in the existing facility so that, at least with regard to the care of people in South Australia, it will be seamless.

Of course, from a physical perspective there will be a very important transition probably right when the new hospital becomes operational, and lessons that were learned from the transition from the old Royal Adelaide Hospital to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital will be taken on board when the current government works through the transition. There were some mistakes made; full credit to the people who worked on that very complicated project for doing a very good job, but there were certainly lessons learned from that that we will incorporate into this new hospital.

Mr Speaker, you might be interested to know why a regional member of parliament is interested in speaking on this motion, someone who is very clearly on the record—multiple times in this place—talking about the importance of country health, about the importance of retaining health services in country areas to the highest standard possible, and in fact many times talking about the need to retain birthing services in country hospitals, small country hospitals in small country towns. I still believe that is very important.

Currently, approximately 5,000 babies are born per year in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and each year approximately 50 babies are born in Kapunda Hospital, in my electorate. Every single one of those babies is incredibly important, every single one of those mothers immediately involved in those births is incredibly important and every single one of those families connected to that mother and that baby is incredibly important.

We need to continue to provide these obstetric services in country areas. That is vitally important, and I will never support a new women’s and children’s hospital in Adelaide taking the place of these services being made available in country areas. Indeed, that is not what our government intends to do and that is not what our Minister for Health intends to do at all. We will continue to support country hospitals to the very best of our ability.

We need to acknowledge that some services cannot be provided in every single hospital in the state. Heart surgery, for example, is only provided in Adelaide. Would it be nice to go to the Mount Gambier, Port Lincoln or Port Augusta Hospital if you needed heart surgery? Yes, of course it would, but it has never been delivered there. It almost certainly never will be, and there is a reason for that: the specialists who can deliver that care are relatively few and far between, and the equipment required to provide that care is exceptionally expensive not only from a capital outlay and operational perspective but also from a maintenance perspective. Heart surgery is an example of something that we can only deliver in Adelaide, and there are other examples as well.

The da Vinci robot, which can do extraordinarily precise surgery and is well known for its work on cancer patients, is another example. Unfortunately, it is not possible to invest in so many of those machines that we could have them spread all around the countryside. In this case, there are times when the health of a baby or a mother is so compromised or so at risk that it is necessary for them to have the very best care available in the world, and we can offer that in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

As an aside, my wife is a nurse. She and I were planning and hoping to have children, but it did not work out for us unfortunately. At that time, we both had private health care and my wife, being well versed in the various services around, and being a theatre nurse, said, ‘No, if I fall pregnant we will go public, and we will go to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.’ That was largely because of her age. I do not want to go too far off track sharing personal details that probably are not of great interest, but it is an example of a regional couple, a potential regional family, who, for quite understandable reasons, decided that it would be risky enough for us to need to go to Adelaide if that were to eventuate.

There are many other far more serious, far more severe and far more important examples than the small one I have just shared that mean that this investment is incredibly important. This investment is exactly what our state needs. I have visited the current Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and I say again that the people who work there provide an extraordinary service. The facility inside, really, is a bit of a rabbit warren. There are wonderful people doing wonderful work in a facility that really is past its use-by date.

We have recognised that, we have allocated funds to that, we will improve that and make a transition to the very best possible ability that our government has to offer. We will make sure that women and children in South Australia continue to receive exceptional care in the meantime and hopefully even better care down the track. I commend the work of the Public Works Committee and their report to this house.