LISMORE'S biggest ever building project looms closer this afternoon with a ceremony to launch work on the interim upgrade of Lismore Base Hospital's emergency department.
The upgrade is intended as a stop-gap until construction of the hospital's new $80 million emergency department is complete.
Today's ceremony is expected to be attended by Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek and NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner.
The short term upgrade is needed because of the time involved in building the new emergency department.
When the new facility - which will be funded with $60 million from the Federal Government ad $20 million from the State Government - was announced in May last year, Northern NSW Local Health District chief executive Chris Crawford estimated it would take 18 months to complete detailed planning on the new building and another 18 months to construct it.
Mr Crawford said at the time the new emergency department would be the biggest single construction project in Lismore's history.
In the meantime, the existing emergency department continues to struggle with a lack of space and a lack of beds.
Last week, The Northern Star reported a man who had suffered a heart attack had to be treated on an ambulance trolley because there was no space for him in the deprtment.
That night, there had been seven ambulances queued outside the hospital waiting for beds to become free in the ED.
The overload triggered an outpouring of frustration on Facebook from people who were there, with one person commenting: "The sheer amount of people who genuinely needed medical treatment tonight was beyond our abilities", while another warned it was "not a one-off".
Beyond the issues of space, there have also been concerns raised about the out-dated design of the emergency department. The existing ED does not allow staff at the nurses' desk clear lines of sight to all beds and does not include a paediatric section, which means young children being treated in the department are at risk of witnessing traumatic sights such as road accident victims and mental health patients having a psychotic incident.
However, despite the millions now being poured into upgrading and, ultimately, replacing the emergency department, doctors have warned the work will not put an end to incidents like last week's.
Doctors with the Lismore Base Hospital Medical Staff Council, through their spokesman and prominent Lismore paediatrician Chris Ingall, have said the hospital needs at least another 100 beds to accommodate patients on wards throughout the facility, which would allow emergency patients to be transferred out of the ED once they had been through triage.