Hospital edges closer to reality
THE 30-year battle for a new centralised Byron Shire hospital is edging ever so closer to becoming a reality.
Funding has been pledged for the planning stages for the $100 million, 54-bed hospital on a green fields site in Ewingsdale Road where construction of a new ambulance station is about to start.
While the planning for the new hospital will take 18-months to two years to get to the "shovel ready" stage, funding is still yet to be committed for construction.
Nevertheless, members of the Byron Shire Health Services Community Action Group who have been pushing for a new hospital have welcomed the promise of planning funding given at a meeting last week by Chris Crawford, the chief executive of the Northern NSW Local Hospital District.
Action group member Rae Cooper said the meeting had been "extremely positive".
Ms Cooper said a steering committee of community representatives would be formed to revise a clinical services plan for a new Byron Shire hospital completed in 2003.
She said the steering committee would make recommendations on the best "mix" of services for the hospital.
Ms Cooper said there had been a recommendation as far back as 1981 to replace existing hospitals in the shire with one centralised hospital on a green fields site at Ewingsdale.
And she said Byron Shire residents had backed the idea of a centralised hospital in the late 1990s.
Another action group member, Tony McCabe, said the meeting with Mr Crawford had been positive.
While Mr McCabe said it was another step towards a centralised hospital, he warned it was a "very slow process".
"With the ambulance station about to start, it indicates a commitment from the government to eventually build a hospital," he said.
Once the planning was completed, the next major step was getting the hospital on to the capital works program, said Mr McCabe.
Action committee member Annie O'Halloran said they looked forward to helping to develop a health campus that reversed the current outflow of Byron Shire residents having to travel big distances to access needed health services.
"We want to be able to look after our own residents, closer to home," she said.
Rezoning of the Ewingsdale site to accommodate the new hospital has been approved by the State Government.
Mr Crawford's meeting with the group was the first since the New South Wales Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research, Jillian Skinner announced in early September funding of $1 million to support the next stages of planning for the central hospital.
"This was a very positive meeting where we discussed the timeline for completing the planning process, which is the next major step towards the development of the Byron Shire Central Hospital," Mr Crawford said.
"First, we will refresh and update the Byron Shire health services plan.
"Then a service procurement plan followed by a project definition plan will be developed.
"We are very pleased that the Byron Shire Central Hospital project planning has recommenced and Health Infrastructure and the Ministry of Health will be involved, as required in this planning process."