Health script: plans for the North

Tasmania Health Organisation North chief executive John Kirwan will this year push for an extensive ward upgrade at the Launceston General Hospital, with work estimated to cost between $70 million and $75 million. 

Mr Kirwan also wants to see an integrated mental health facility in Launceston, upgraded accommodation near the hospital for medical staff, a new hospital at St Helens, and a decision on the future of Beaconsfield hospital. 

He said he had put in bids for funding from the state government, and would push for the projects over the next couple of years. 

In an interview with The Examiner's health reporter JODIE STEPHENS, Mr Kirwan outlined his plans for health in Northern Tasmania.

Launceston General Hospital ward upgrade:

Mr Kirwan said an upgrade of almost all wards, except the intensive care unit, was emerging as a high priority.

He said the wards weren't air- conditioned, had few single rooms, and were of outdated design.

Mr Kirwan said more single rooms were needed to help cope with and provide better care for disruptive, palliative and other special needs patients.

He said single rooms would also help reduce the spread of infection, and get more patients from the emergency department to a hospital bed quicker.

"That's one of the reasons why we have long-stay patients in the emergency department, because until a single room becomes available we can't put someone who's potentially compromised in a room with three other people," Mr Kirwan said.

He said the wards also lacked storage and capacity for the lifting equipment increasingly required for bariatric (or obese) patients.

St Helens hospital:

Mr Kirwan said a new hospital was critical for St Helens, with a memorandum of understanding signed between THO North, the Department of Health and Human Services and Break O'Day Council in November to find a suitable site for a new facility.

He said the existing hospital was prone to flooding, which was not ideal for a facility that far from the support of LGH.

"It is clear in our mind that staying where we are is probably not the option, and what we are recommending is that we build a new hospital on a less flood-prone site," he said.

"Where that site is, I think is still open for discussion."

Mr Kirwan said he expected a new facility, estimated to cost between $10 million and $12 million, would be about the same size as the existing hospital but built to modern standards.

"St Helens' demand is seasonal because it peaks in that summer holiday period, so it's got to have that capacity to deal with that, but the inpatient and other service areas is pretty static," he said.

Beaconsfield hospital:

Mr Kirwan said a decision would have to be made on the future of Beaconsfield District Health Service, as the facility was not up to standard.

He said it was mainly used for aged care, with a couple of rarely- used sub-acute beds, but it didn't suit the needs of elderly residents.

"It's an old hospital built on the side of a hill, with all the patients-dash-clients on the first floor," Mr Kirwan said.

"We have a lift that doesn't necessarily always work, so for them to get out of the ground floor they have to use the stairs.

"If it's quality residential care, it's like the new nursing homes that have got direct access to gardens, services, with not many stairs if any at all."

Mr Kirwan said aged care was not THO North's strong suit.

"Aged care is not where most of our staff are trained, and the aged care providers are specialist in those areas and meet quite rigorous national standards," he said.

Mr Kirwan said they needed to discuss alternatives, with one option to transfer residents to another aged care facility.

"We need to get the model of care right, and we need to engage with the community on what that looks like," Mr Kirwan said.

Integrated mental health:

Mr Kirwan said he wanted to see all mental health services moved into one building - in particular, one they already used across the road from the LGH.

He said adult community health services, forensic mental health services, alcohol and drugs services were spread "across the countryside", some in rented buildings.

Mr Kirwan said an integrated service would provide better patient care, bring staff together in a collaborative environment, and would be more cost effective as they shared reception and other services.

He said the project was costed at about $10.5 million.

Doctor and nurse accommodation:

Mr Kirwan said the existing Launceston accommodation for medical staff needed improvement.

He said the current doctor accommodation on Mulgrave Street looked like "something out of the Cold War", and the nurse accommodation behind The Charles hotel was also out-of-date.

Mr Kirwan said architects and builders had proposed plans to demolish the doctor accommodation.

He said they would then spruce up the partly heritage-listed nurse accommodation, which currently has 100 units and shared bathrooms.

Mr Kirwan said it was recommended they refurbish the heritage-listed part of the building, and rebuild the other areas to provide ensuited rooms.

"It would make sense to have modern, safe accommodation that is accessible and allows them internet access, security, places to sleep, and places that are quiet - particularly during the day for shift workers," he said.

Mr Kirwan said that once redone, the building would probably have fewer units than it does now.

"Our occupancy varies a bit, it tends to sometimes be very high, but it's always used at about 70 to 80 per cent plus," he said.

Mr Kirwan said that if the project - priced at about $12 million - went ahead, it would give the hospital a competitive advantage in attracting staff.

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