LISMORE Base Hospital will get a new $80 million emergency department in what health boss Chris Crawford says will be biggest building project in the city's history.
Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek and NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner made the joint announcement in Lismore yesterday morning, saying the Commonwealth would contribute $60 million and the State $20 million to the project.
The Commonwealth contribution was expected to be formally announced by Treasurer Wayne Swan when he hands down the Federal Budget next week.
The announcement follows years of campaigning by MPs Thomas George and Janelle Saffin, community members such as Marshall Fittler and the Our Health group, and The Northern Star.
Mr Crawford, the Northern NSW Local Health District chief executive, said it was difficult to nail down a timeline for construction, but said he expected it would take about three years to build the new emergency department, allowing 18 months for detailed planning and 18 months of actual construction work.
Once complete, the new building would create a new 28-bed emergency department, nearly doubling the size of the existing facility, as well as expanding the hospital's renal dialysis unit and providing a new home for community and primary health facilities.
The upgrade falls well short of the full vision for the Stage Three upgrade, which was intended to also include new operating theatres, new pre and post-operative units, new various wards, training facilities and a roof-top helipad to allow fast access to trauma patients flown to Lismore by the Westpac Life Saver Helicopter.
It also breaks significantly from the original upgrade plan, which involved the demolition of Crawford House - the health service's administrative hub - and would focus new construction work on the corner of Uralba and Hunter streets.
Instead, the new emergency department will be built at the eastern end of the building, forcing the relocation of the hospital's birthing unit and special care nursery.
Ms Skinner and Ms Plibersek said the new location was aimed at getting as much benefit as possible from each dollar spent on the project. Demolishing Crawford House and relocating its administrative staff would have been expected to cost $10 million alone.
Mr Crawford said it was impossible to say how many jobs would be created during construction. However, he said the experience of the $27 million cancer unit was that it would inject a significant amount of money into the Lismore community by directly employing local tradespeople as sub-contractors.
Detailed planning will include the planning for the remainder of Stage Three to make sure the projects dovetail.
As for the rest of the Stage Three upgrade, Ms Plibersek agreed the $475 million being distributed now by the Commonwealth represented the end of the $5 billion Health and Hospital Fund, while Ms Skinner said there was no funding in state coffers earmarked for the project.
Ms Skinner acknowledged the need to reduce bed pressure on the hospital's overcrowded wards, which could become so full they prevented people from moving out of the emergency department, causing that to overflow as well.