The ACT government has abandoned plans for an elective surgery centre at the University of Canberra Hospital precinct, with theatre capacity to be expanded elsewhere.
A specialty elective surgery centre was a promise in the last territory election and it was expected to be finished by 2025, but the project has been quietly shelved.
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the government made the decision to drop plans for the centre following early feasibility work, which showed it was better to have services integrated.
The territory has struggled to meet elective surgery targets over a number of years, an issue exacerbated following a fire late last year in the operating theatres at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.
ACT Labor promised in the 2020 election it would build the new centre on the University of Canberra Hospital precinct and it would cost about $21 million.
At the time, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was expected the centre would start taking patients by 2024-25. However, there has since been no funding allocated for the project and the government has made no formal announcements on it.
It was revealed in the government's health infrastructure plan last week the centre would not be built.
"With the construction of the new northside hospital set to begin in the coming years, the project will incorporate the proposed northside elective surgery centre," the plan said.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the government would instead focus on building greater capacity for day surgery and support through other facilities, including a new health centre in north Gungahlin.
"The election commitment was about providing people in Canberra's north with access to day surgeries closer to home," she said.
"Planning is currently under way for the model of care and services to be provided at the centre and it is intended that this will include day surgery suites, which was not originally envisaged in the walk-in health centre election commitment."
But it is not known when the centre in Gungahlin will be completed. The government allocated more than $16 million towards four new health centres in the recent territory budget.
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The health infrastructure plan said this funding would go towards the design and construction of a centre in south Tuggeranong and for site planning and preliminary design for the centre in Gungahlin and another one in the inner south.
The centre at the University of Canberra was supposed to help with the government's ambition to deliver 60,000 elective surgeries over four years. It is unclear if the government is likely to reach this as data on the number of surgeries completed last year is not available following the implementation of the digital health record.
There were 14,011 elective surgeries in the 2021-22 year and 15,034 surgeries in the 2020-21 year. The number of surgeries fell slightly below the target in both years.
Elective surgery capability has been further curtailed in the territory's public health system following a fire at the Bruce public hospital. The December 2022 electrical fire caused all theatres to be shut at the hospital for a month. Three theatres remain closed.
The hospital was recently taken over by the ACT government and is now called North Canberra Hospital.
Ms Stephen-Smith said Canberra Health Services had strengthened partnerships with the private sector and more surgeries were being delivered through private providers.
"A key focus at the moment is to complete the restoration of the North Canberra Hospital theatre complex and to optimise public elective surgery throughput at both North Canberra Hospital and Calvary Bruce Private Hospital," she said.
More theatres will also become operational next year when the expansion of the Canberra Hospital opens.
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