MP hits out at hospital delay ‘betrayal’

Eastern Victoria MP Renee Heath with Opposition Leader John Pesutto. 396293 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Matthew Sims

The Pakenham community hospital is among the five community hospitals out of 10 proposed projects which have not seen any construction begin, despite first being promised in 2018 and expected to be completed later this year.

According to the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office November 2023 Major Projects Performance Report, the project, which included construction projects in Cranbourne and Phillip Island, was expected to likely to be more than 20 per cent over its current budget of $675 million, potentially pushing the budget beyond $810 million, while the project was expected to be completed in mid-2025 or four to six months behind schedule.

According to the report, scope risks were emerging but were being managed, with no action or decision required by the government at that point in time.

A State Government spokesperson said each of the ten projects were at a different stage of the project life cycle, with design consultation and planning continuing on the Pakenham project.

“Community Hospitals will take pressure off nearby hospitals and ensure locals have access to the care they need, closer to home,” the spokesperson said.

“The planning and delivery of the Community Hospitals Program is a significant undertaking.

“Each project has its own unique features and will be tailored to meet the local community’s needs.”

According to a ’fact sheet’ on the project released by the State Government, the project would be delivered as part of a $675 million State Government investment to build and upgrade 10 community hospitals across the state.

Located at 67-69 Main Street in Pakenham the community hospital would expand from the current offering of mostly Tier 1 services to incorporate more public Tier 2 and 3 services during the week and out of hours, such as allied health services, pharmacy services, women’s health, paediatric care, diagnostic services, chronic disease management, community mental health assessment, alcohol and drug services, complex renal dialysis, day surgery, day chemotherapy, rehabilitation support, and family violence and crisis support services.

The Pakenham Gazette has previously reported that the project was delayed after legal proceedings were lodged in the Supreme Court regarding the application of a Public Acquisition Overlay over the land.

However, the court case has since been resolved and the project is now in the design phase.

Eastern Victoria MP Renee Heath said the delay was a “betrayal of local communities” by the State Government.

“My office receives daily complaints from people who have been failed by a local health system that is at capacity,” she said.

“This much-needed hospital in one of the fastest growing areas of Victoria should have been opened this year, but construction hasn’t even begun.

“The sad reality is this government is now in the business of closing hospitals, not opening new ones.”

Ms Heath said a Liberal-Nationals Coalition was “absolutely invested” in building a new hospital in Pakenham.

“At the last election we vowed to divert money from Labor’s pet transport construction projects to fund the new hospital for Pakenham,” she said.

Managed by Monash Health, the Pakenham Community Hospital would be a small public hospital providing a range of services including chronic disease management, urgent care, specialist medical appointments and diagnostic services.

Located on a portion of 67-69 Main Street, Pakenham (the old Woolworths building), the hospital would be within walking distance of the Pakenham town centre and train station.

The hospital would help take pressure off nearby major hospitals, including Casey Hospital, and enable more people to manage their health needs closer to home.

Former Pakenham Liberal candidate David Farrelly said

“Either we get a real hospital in Pakenham in a location that allows for expansion of services as our population grows, or just don’t bother wasting money,” he said.

“The old Safeway site should be returned to the thriving food and retail district that Pakenham desperately needs.

“I want to see this place become a thriving retail venue, just like it should be.”

Other proposals from locals on Facebook included building an urgent care clinic, building a fully functional hospital and not building the community hospital in the centre of town.

The delay in construction joined the development of the Pakenham Place Shopping Centre being in limbo.

Banco Group and Leaf Group purchased the shopping centre in 2020, with the plans for the centre including Liquorland, Toyworld, a medical centre, about 30 speciality stores, and several mini majors and pad sites including a Woolworths petrol station and a Priceline Pharmacy.

The initial plans for the 60,000 square-metre site also included on-grade parking for more than 700 vehicles.

However, in January, Banco Group director Mario LoGiudice said there were issues with how the Victorian Health Building Authority’s plans for the hospital would co-exist with the precinct’s retail plans.