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A new Women's Hospital - but where are the children?

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A newly-built Women’s Hospital is back on the Government’s agenda as it gears up for another state election – with plans for a co-located children’s facility to be unveiled if Labor retains office – but the proposal will now be delivered later and cost far more than was originally promised.

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As forecast in InDaily yesterday, Premier Jay Weatherill today confirmed that this week’s state budget will contain funding to deliver – at least in part – on the key pledge he made ahead of the 2014 state election.

A new “Adelaide Women’s Hospital” – which will be “physically connected” to the soon-to-be-opened new Royal Adelaide Hospital – will be built at a budgeted cost of $528 million, with completion expected by “the end of 2024”.

However, the current administration will not wear much of the committed cost, with just $30.3 million to be spent over the four-year forward estimates.

The Government said a specific location to build an adjacent “Children’s Hospital” will be “identified by the end of 2019” at the Adelaide Biomedical Precinct on the old city railyards site.

That would be almost two years after next year’s March election.

It comes almost four years after Weatherill pledged to build a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital at the Biomedical Precinct. The hospital was intended to open in 2023, at an estimated cost reported to be around $600 million.

The new project will cost just $70 million shy of that amount, open a year later and deliver only half of the promised new Women’s and Children’s services.

That’s despite a 2015 pledge, still contained on the Transforming Health website, that “the relocation of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital… will be brought forward as much as possible”.

In the meantime, operations will continue at the existing WCH, with Thursday’s budget to include an additional $24 million over two years towards “an overall $64.4 million upgrade to the existing Hospital”.

The Government said the new Women’s Hospital would provide tertiary-level maternity, neonatal and gynaecology services, access to adult intensive care and sub-specialty services, an increase in neonatal intensive care capacity and perinatal infant mental health services.

It will also have access to the new RAH’s helipad, “significantly reducing the risk of transferring maternity and neonatal emergencies”.

Weatherill said the building work was expected to create 1900 full-time equivalent jobs “during the life of the project”.

“We are investing more than $550 million to protect the health of our women, children and newborns at some of the most vulnerable times in their lives,” Weatherill said in a statement.

“The new Adelaide Women’s Hospital… will be a modern, purpose-built facility that will care for women and newborns for many generations.”

The announcement follows a raft of health-spending announcements as the Government seeks to mitigate the political fallout of its Transforming Health reforms ahead of the March 2018 poll.

The Government said the clinical model of splitting the hospital into two components was the result of “expert” advice.

Health Minister Jack Snelling said: “Our doctors say this model will be of great benefit, in particular in situations where a mother may experience a difficult birth and require acute intensive care at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.”

The Opposition said the announcement proved Labor “treats election promises as a disposable product”.

Opposition Health spokesman Stephen Wade argued that “the new Royal Adelaide Hospital was originally promised to cost $1.7 billion and open in April 2016”.

“As of today the nRAH has cost $2.43 billion dollars and won’t open until September at the very earliest – 17 months late,” he said.

“The public needs to take the Weatherill’s Government’s costings and timeline for a new Women’s Hospital with a grain of salt.

“The nRAH’s $730 million cost blow-out could have paid for a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital and kept the Repat running for another decade.”

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