Decision to build Women and Babies Hospital at Murdoch instead of QEII site must be reversed

October 20, 2023 10:00 AM
Libby Mettam
WA Liberal Leader

It is a clear and explicit warning from a workforce whose expertise, experience and insight has been completely disregarded by a Health Minister that thinks she knows better. 

The warning came in the Child and Adolescent Health Service (CAHS) draft position paper leaked this week on the government’s decision to build the new Women and Babies Hospital (NWBH) at Murdoch instead of the QEII site next to Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH).

It’s the first time we have heard from the State’s most experienced neonatology and paediatric specialists in detail on the decision after the Health Minister blindsided them in April, making the Captain’s Call to move it without any consultation.

While unable to speak publicly, they are rightly incredulous and hold grave concerns over the move, particularly the risks to patients. 

CAHS specialist neonatal, paediatric medical and surgical, and allied health staff are the leaders in the provision of neonatal and paediatric care in WA.

Their expert advice is that the decision not to locate the NWBH with the state’s only paediatric tertiary service is not best practice and will result in increased mortality and morbidity to neonates. 

It also asked: 

Who will own the risk of increased death and disability that the decision to locate the NWBH to the Murdoch site will bring?

The Health Minister? The Cabinet members that signed off on it? 

A senior Perth Children’s Hospital doctor described it as quite possibly the worst decision that has been made in the history of the Department of Health.

I’m not sure it could be more definitive than that. 

Yet the Health Minister continues to forge ahead with this ill-informed decision stating that no amount of consultation would have changed her mind.

It was apparently too hard to build at QEII and would have taken too long. 

In essence, she didn’t want or need to consult medical experts because the core reasons behind her decision were infrastructure-based, not patient-focussed care. 

The arrogance is breathtaking. 

The Minister has previously dismissed concerns around clinical outcomes as a handful of unhappy doctors, implying they don’t want to leave the Western suburbs.

This paper was signed by 150 senior medical staff. 

It explicitly states the depth of concern from senior clinical experts remains significant and should not be dismissed as a “few unhappy doctors”. 

Planning for this hospital to replace King Edward Memorial Hospital has been underway for decades. 

The plan, as announced by Roger Cook in 2019, was to tri-locate it at the QEII site next to the State’s only tertiary children’s hospital and a tertiary adult hospital.

The challenges around the site are not new with then Health Minister stating it will be a difficult project but one we need to do.

As the paper states, tri-location is the only way to ensure that women and babies receive world’s best practice health care specific to each of their needs in an appropriate facility.  

Anything less poses unacceptable risks to women and babies, particularly the 200 neonates that require transfer to Perth Children’s Hospital every year for critical life-saving surgery.

Advocates believe many are so vulnerable they would not survive a 20-kilometre trip in an ambulance down the freeway.

The Minister’s claims that neonatal services can be replicated at Fiona Stanley Hospital, reducing the need to transfer babies to PCH, were also shot down by experts.

The paper states there is simply not the critical mass of procedures in WA nor the specialist workforce available to replicate these services at more than one site. 

The partial tri-location options of providing an obstetric and neonatal service at the QEII Medical Centre of increasing neonatal subspecialties at Murdoch, do not mitigate this risk. 

There are also risks to mothers, as outlined in the letter leaked yesterday from senior medical staff at King Edward Memorial Hospital. 

They fear the government’s plans for a staged upgrade to obstetric services at Osborne Park Hospital will also fall well short without significant investment in a suite of 24-hour emergency care across a range of subspecialties.  

Essentially, the standalone obstetric hospital model is inherently unsafe without this suite of extra services, and they don’t believe it can or will be delivered in full.   

The KEMH staff also fear the model asks clinicians to work in conditions of unacceptable risk, making it harder to attract and retain specialist staff. 

The letter stated:

Buildings and beds should be considered to support best patient care, rather than define it. 

WA is the only state in the country that does not have tri-location of services.  

It is considered gold standard care because the risks around separating them are obvious and internationally recognised. 

The Minister’s claims that we don’t have co-location of babies and children’s hospitals now so it’s essentially not changing anything highlight the decision for what it is – short-sighted recklessness. 

Unless this government is planning to move the tertiary children’s hospital to Murdoch, this is our once-in-a-century opportunity to ensure we have tri-location of these services.

To continue to ignore the chorus of concerns from our leading medical specialists is not only foolish, it is outright dangerous. The Health Minister must reverse this decision.

← Back to the media centre
Privacy, Terms & Conditions
4 Harvest Terrace
West Perth WA 6005