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How the war was won for the Sunshine Coast's new hospital

FORMER Sunshine Coast Daily editor in chief Mark Furler looks back on the fight for a $1.8 billion hospital at Kawana


'I'VE seen people dying in waiting rooms."

"I have seen little kids coughing their lungs up and no-one can help them because the nurses and doctors are flat out.''

With those words, Brian Ginn, the terminally ill Wurtulla war veteran who became the face of the fight for the Coast's $1.8 billion hospital, summed up the community anger over inadequate health facilities for our region.

Despite its booming population growth, the Coast had been overlooked for years when it came to the most basic of services. It didn't help that we had some of the safest conservative federal and state seats in the state.

The Kawana hospital delay protests became symbolic of a region that was just sick of being neglected by both sides of politics - and it wasn't the first time.

In 1990, the imposition of three toll booths on the Sunshine Motorway - a road which had been urgently recommended a decade earlier - sparked the Tollbusters crusade which led to the tolls being removed by the LNP after being foisted on the region by Labor.

Fast forward to June 15, 2009, and the announcement by then deputy Labor Premier and Health Minister Paul Lucas that the Sunshine Coast University Hospital would be delayed by two years sparked howls of protest.

LNP Member for Kawana Jarrod Bleijie organised meetings with residents which led to a 1500-plus march in November 2009 in which residents united under the single message: "Hospital delay, no way".

Brian Ginn's dying wish is to see the construction of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital fast-tracked. The 75-year-old marched during the hospital protest in 2009.
Brian Ginn's dying wish is to see the construction of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital fast-tracked. The 75-year-old marched during the hospital protest in 2009. Brett Wortman

Protesters tied 450 ribbons to the Kawana site of the hospital - one for each bed it would provide for the region.

The front page at the time showed the crowd under the headline 'WE WILL BE HEARD'.

The Sunshine Coast Daily had earlier launched a 'Hospital Now' campaign, pledging its full support for any efforts putting pressure on the government to deliver much needed hospital beds.
 

Sunshine Coast Daily front page, November 9, 2009.
Sunshine Coast Daily front page, November 9, 2009.

I remember speaking at a residents meeting, warning that not only were health services and lives being put at risk - but also 3500 direct jobs and another 1700 indirect jobs.

With the region in the grip of the global financial crisis, every project and every job was desperately needed.

Daily staff proudly joined the march against the hospital delay.

Brian Ginn was pushed in his wheelchair by Mr Bleijie at the head of the march.

In 2012, it was Mr Ginn, who was helped to his feet to turn the first sod on the massive project with then LNP Premier Campbell Newman.

While it was due to open in November 2016, it suffered a second delay before opening in March/April this year, a month ahead of the revised schedule.

The Sunshine Coast University Hospital project has had a chequered political history to say the least.

It was back in 2005 that former Health Minister Gordon Nuttall announced that land in Sippy Downs would become home to the hospital.

A series of award-winning articles by former Sunshine Coast Daily investigative journalist Carolyn Tucker detailed Nuttall's links with a consortium of Sunshine Coast developers involved in a proposal to build the new hospital.

The Sippy Downs site, deemed too small for the proposed super-hospital, was eventually scrapped in favour of the new site at Kawana. In July 2009, Nuttall was found guilty of corruption.

When Labor announced the hospital project would be delayed it was blasted as a sick joke.

Four days later, the karaoke-loving Kawana MP took to the House singing 'What about me?"

It's probably a good theme song for a region which has had more than 30 years of neglect on everything from rail and highway upgrades to basic human services.

Both Labor and the LNP will no doubt seek to claim credit for the Kawana hospital.
 

An early artist's impression of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.
An early artist's impression of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.


It was first announced by then Labor Premier Peter Beattie in 2006 as a $500 million project. Labor had gained the seat of Kawana and were keen to impress.

When the delay was announced in 2009, the Australian Medical Association warned that it would end up costing close to $2 billion when it was finally opened. They were pretty close to mark.

The bigger cost of the delay, however, has been to people fighting cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions which have required treatment in Brisbane.
 

Sunshine Coast University Hospital Action Group supporters want the government to speed up construction of a new hospital in Kawana.
Sunshine Coast University Hospital Action Group supporters want the government to speed up construction of a new hospital in Kawana. Darryn Smith

For a region with a population close to 300,000, it's staggering to think there were just 592 beds available back in 2006.

A report back then warned that double that number would be needed by 2022.

The Kawana hospital will save about 10,000 people a year from having to go to Brisbane for health services.
 

Sunshine Coast Daily front page: July 19, 2012.
Sunshine Coast Daily front page: July 19, 2012.

Over the past few years, many people, including the Sunshine Coast University Hospital Action group, fought hard to ensure the Coast was not forgotten by either Labor or the LNP.

In the end, we can thank them - and the likes of Brian Ginn, who sadly passed away in April last year - for reminding politicians that they should think twice about playing politics with health care.

As Brian Ginn pointed out back in 2012, hospital staff deserve better than that.

"Those nurses and doctors deserve medals.''

And the very best facilities.