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"The end of Transforming Health": Govt coy on new Women's and Children's

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The Weatherill Government appears poised to finally announce funding for a four-year-old election pledge to build a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

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The Government is in the process of rolling back major tenets of its Transforming Health reforms with a series of announcements ahead of Thursday’s state budget, progressively detailing what it says will amount to “a $1.1 billion investment in public hospitals”.

That includes today’s announcement of $52.5 million for a “new, bigger, world-class emergency department” at the Lyell McEwin.

In recent days it has also unveiled budget commitments to spend up big on new work at the Queen Elizabeth, Modbury and the Flinders Medical Centre, with the total cost nudging over $300 million.

But asked today whether the remaining money would go towards honouring the 2013 promise to rebuild the WCH adjacent to the new Royal Adelaide’s city site, Premier Jay Weatherill was coy.

“You’ll see how we go with the budget,” he told reporters.

“It’s a very exciting time… we’re announcing $1.1 billion worth of investment in our suburban hospitals [so] you don’t need to be a genius to work out that there’s more to come.”

The WCH move was flagged in October 2013 ahead of a state election the following March. The Premier said at the time “the current hospital building is ageing and has limited options for expansion”.

“By moving it to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital site, we will have a world-class adult, women’s and children’s hospital facility with specialised care and improved services,” he said.

It was proposed to open in 2023 “in an area already set aside within the South Australian Health and Biomedical Precinct”, but there has been no word on funding since then.

Last year the state Liberals demanded an update on the project’s status, noting there were “no plans, no expressions of interest, no money in the forward estimates and no chance of the Weatherill Government delivering this election promise in the next seven years”.

Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis today denied the health spending spree was a rejection of Transforming Health, saying: “I think listening to the community is an example of good government.”

Asked about the WCH pledge, he noted that he would not rule anything in or out of the budget – despite concurrently ruling in more than $50 million for the Lyell McEwin.

“You’ll have to wait and see… it’s not long to go,” he said.

“I think it’s great that the media are excited about health [but] we will answer all your questions on budget day.”

Labor insiders have told InDaily the big spend was “not part of the plan” with Transforming Health, noting vulnerable MPs had “just got wobbly-kneed and felt like they were taking too many hits on it”.

“It seems to be a direct admission that the Government didn’t feel confident enough that they had sorted the health agenda,” one said.

But Health Minister Jack Snelling said the Government had “always been open to reforming Transforming Health as we’ve gone on”.

“Transforming Health is now coming to a conclusion, and we’ve done the hard yards, deciding basically which hospitals provide which services,” he said.

“It is what it is… which is a massive investment in our public hospitals.”

Prominent Transforming Health critic Dr John Horowitz, the former director of cardiology at QEH who has now returned to work at the facility, told ABC Radio Adelaide the weekend’s announcement that the western suburbs hospital would retain its cardiac services marked “a significant change in direction which, technically speaking, also marks the end of Transforming Health”.

Opposition Health spokesman Stephen Wade called the spending spree “a desperate ploy to limit the political damage caused by [Labor’s] toxic Transforming Health cuts”.

“Jay Weatherill has belatedly admitted that his plans to close the Repat and cuts services at Modbury, the QEH and Noarlunga Hospitals are politically poisonous,” said Wade.

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