It’s been blamed for the fall of the Roman Empire and was an ongoing Achilles heel for the Barnett government.
Now lead in the water supply is proving to be the problem that won’t go away for Mark McGowan, as well, as the Premier and his Government battles to get the long-delayed Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) open.
The latest report on the problem-plagued hospital, delivered by WA’s chief health officer yesterday, blamed brass fittings for the high levels of lead in the drinking water.
The report found the fittings had corroded, leaching lead into the water system.
The basement of the hospital has been flooded by a burst pipe, 900 fire doors have had to be ripped out and replaced, and key members of the hospital’s leadership team have resigned.
Frustration for parents
It’s been “an incredibly frustrating process” for the Government, Health Minister Roger Cook conceded yesterday, blaming building contractor John Holland for the latest hospital headache.
But if it’s frustrating for the Government, how frustrating must it be for the families of Perth children, especially those with chronic conditions, who have been waiting for years for the new facility to open?
When planning for the new hospital was announced by the Barnett Government in early 2010, it was touted as “a leading paediatric care and research facility” that would “provide the highest quality of clinical care”.
It was intended that the “state of the art” new facility would open “by 2015″.
In 2010 WA was in the middle of a mining boom, the state’s coffers were overflowing, and the mood was optimistic.
Few could have imagined that seven-and-a-half years later, the gleaming new hospital would be sitting idle with no opening date in sight.
Everything is in place — the machines and other expensive medical equipment, the landscaping, the hundreds of unused parking bays that the Government is paying a contractor $500,000 a month to manage.
Drive past the hospital at night and it is a beacon in the darkness, with all lights blazing — but a closer look reveals there are no staff bustling around the rooms and corridors, no patients being monitored and treated.
Instead, most sick children requiring hospital care are treated at the same place they’ve been treated for more than a century — Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), which was opened in Subiaco in 1909.
PMH problems ongoing
The state’s only functioning paediatric hospital was meant to have shut its doors by now and been replaced by the new $1.2 billion Perth Children’s Hospital down the road in Nedlands.
In addition to the ongoing maintenance required for the aging buildings and equipment, the hospital has suffered from low staff morale, with the Australian Medical Association describing it as a “toxic work environment”.
A review, released shortly after the abrupt resignation of the head of WA’s Child and Adolescent Health Service (CAHS) Professor Frank Daly, found a fundamental failure of leadership within the hospital, resulting in staff feeling a sense of “chaos” and a fear of speaking out.
And still there is no opening date for the new hospital.
Pressed by journalists yesterday, Health Minister Roger Cook said the hospital was unlikely to open this year and he thought it would probably be open “early 2018″.
But no promises.
Taxpayer cost concern
Meanwhile, cost is the other major concern for WA taxpayers.
The new hospital is sitting idle while problems at Princess Margaret Hospital continue. (ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)
While the new hospital has yet to accept a single patient, the government is still forking out millions of dollars each month to keep the new facility functional.
This in addition to the costs involved in keeping PMH operational, likely also to run into the millions.
Mr Cook could give no indication yesterday of how much it might cost to fix the lead problem at PCH, but was firm in his belief that it was the responsibility of the builder, not the taxpayer.
“We don’t think this will have an impact in terms of the overall budget in relation to the taxpayer,” he said.
“We believe this is the sort of thing that the builder will take care of.”
The Perth Children’s Hospital was touted as “a leading paediatric care and research facility”. (ABC News: Darren Dunstan)