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Questions unanswered on Women's and Children's Hospital rebuild

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The future of the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital remains clouded, with the Liberal Government still hoping to rebuild the entire facility within the riverbank medical precinct, despite Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas’s warning such a move could cost “well in excess of $2.5 billion”.

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The rebuild became a point of difference in the election campaign after Labor opted to build the “Adelaide Women’s Hospital” separately from the Children’s Hospital, while the Liberals vowed to rebuild the entire WCH to be co-located with the new Royal Adelaide.

Premier Steven Marshall today confirmed the establishment of a “high-level taskforce” – to be chaired by former WCH boss Jim Birch – to explore options for the co-location of the hospital to the North Tce site.

However, he deferred questions about the exact footprint to his Health Minister, Stephen Wade, who noted that “a number of options have been looked at in terms of the co-location on the new site”.

“Some of those options would envisage parts of the facility being beyond the immediate precinct, but these are all issues that need to be addressed by the taskforce,” Wade said.

While the minister reiterated that “we’re committed to a co-located hospital on the new RAH site”, he was vague about what exactly that meant.

“The government’s original proposal was for a co-located facility within the footprint, and that will be one of the options looked at by the taskforce,” he said.

Wade said another option could be “putting it further down behind the UniSA building”, but emphasised that “I wouldn’t regard that as a co-located hospital”.

“But these are all the sorts of options that will have to be looked at by the taskforce,” he said.

But Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas – who was Health Minister when Labor lost office – said the Weatherill government scrapped plans to rebuild the entire WCH on the biomedical site because of “clinical and fiscal considerations”.

He said he’d received advice about costings for “a brand new co-located Women’s and Children’s Hospital that exceed well over the cost of the brand new Royal Adelaide Hospital”.

“We know that the cost of a co-located dual Women’s and Children’s Hospital on the biomedical precinct site – the numbers associated with such an investment can be well in excess of $2.5 billion,” he said.

“It’s now for the Government to articulate exactly what their policy position is, how they’re going to implement their plan and what the costs of that are.”

But Wade insisted he’d “certainly seen no figure which suggests a cost estimate beyond $2 billion”.

“One I’ve seen relates to a $1.4 billion build,” he said.

However, he conceded he couldn’t recall the specifics of that option, saying: “Let’s be honest, the Labor Government meddled and muddled for so many years with so many options, I lost track.”

He said there was a contractual option to expand the nRAH by 30 per cent “by building on the southern side”, so “these are all the sorts of options to be looked at”.

“So there’s plenty of options within the site,” he insisted.

The 15-person taskforce, which will contain eight clinicians as well as outgoing SA Health chief Vickie Kaminski, is due to report by the end of the year.

Marshall said his Government would “certainly be honouring that commitment” to rebuild the WCH adjacent the nRAH by 2024, adding that “the one person I will not be relying on for a cost estimate is Peter Malinauskas”.

Labor’s Women’s Hospital was budgeted to cost $528 million, with completion expected by the end of 2024.

A specific location for a separate standalone Children’s Hospital in the Biomedical Precinct was to be identified by the end of 2019.

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