The New Maitland Hospital will open its doors next month.

Next month after nearly ten years the new Maitland Hospital will open its doors. Last week I was invited as part of a small number of community representatives to inspect the new facility.

The site is looking fantastic, most of the equipment has been installed, and the finishing touches to signage and artworks have been completed.

The move in date which is set to happen in January will be the largest non emergency health move and planning and logistics studies have been underway for some time to ensure it goes smoothly. Other hospitals in the area will assist by supporting our patients and an emergency command model will be used to ensure patient and staff safety.

We started the fight for this hospital with an announcement of $20 million in funding on 17 February 2011 but no commitment to a fully public facility.

In 2015, the Government committed $25 million for a $400 million facility, and then in 2016 there was an admission by Government that it would be one of five new hospitals in NSW to be funded privately.

Roll forward to January 2018 after 30,000 people had signed petitions calling for a fully public hospital, numerous debates in the NSW Parliament and we had a commitment that facility would be fully publicly funded.

The final cost of the hospital is now $500 million including a $30 million car park with solar panels which will help save on electricity costs, as well as a rooftop helipad, a catheterisation lab for cardiac patients, a state of the art MRI machine, an intensive care unit and chemotherapy chairs.

Health Infrastructure have been responsive to changing needs throughout the build and some of the rooms within the hospital have negative air pressure which will prevent transmission of infectious diseases such as COVID when patients are admitted.

The Federal Member for Maitland Meryl Swanson is lobbying the Federal Government to open up the funding round for a public licence for the machine which will make a huge difference to health outcomes for residents in Maitland. I am working with Meryl on this as I know from personal experience how important it is to have access to MRI scanning for early diagnosis and treatment of a range of conditions including cancer.

The new Maitland hospital will increase the available beds from 188 to around 339, so it’s a significant increase in capacity which is much overdue for our fast growing community.

The purpose-built facility will be much better for patients and staff in navigating through the hospital at various stages of the health journey.

The feel of the new hospital is very light and bright and welcoming to everyone. From the wide open corridors, the art works which are colourful representations of local flora or brightly coloured children’s pictures, or the Aboriginal translations printed next to directional signage, there is an effort to make people feel at home and included in this place.

One of the biggest challenges will be in ensuring that staffing of the new hospital will be sufficient. The existing hospital has suffered with over capacity issues, and lack of staffing for some time. These issues must be resolved before the move to the new building, and the move should not be seen as an opportunity to downsize any area of staffing whether that be medical, ancillary or cleaning and maintenance staff.

There are still aspects of the new hospital that can still be improved. I am working with the Minister for Health on accommodating community health and other health staff on the site to provide the benefit of co-location of ancillary and community based health services for patients as was originally promised.

The location of the hospital has attracted a number of new medical imaging and oncology service providers to the area. We are already seeing new medical specialists coming to the area as the co-location in East Maitland with the Maitland Private Hospital provides them with opportunities to work across both systems in the newest facilities in the region, and indeed the state. The MRI public licence is vital for that.

We also need to have the Hunter Medical Research Institute located onsite. Participation in medical research studies improves health outcomes for patients and the co-location of the HMRI would ensure the integration of medical research within our public health services.

I am working with the Rotary Club of East Maitland who have been doing great work to provide onsite accommodation for remote patients and their carers. It’s really important that we have those facilities for people who aren’t able to access the same health facilities in their own local communities. This needs to be large enough to cater for the needs of people across our health district. As someone who has lived in a town without crucial medical services such as birthing services, I know how important it is to have accommodation facilities.

The NSW Government must also improve transport issues. The train line is very close to the hospital and it would be great to see the Government add another station at the hospital itself to improve access to people within Maitland and the broader health district. In the interim a bus shuttle between the Victoria St Station and the hospital is vital.

Roads around the hospital have had some improvement during the build but the congestion caused during those roadworks demonstrates the need for the NSW Government to provide more connectivity between the two state roads (the New England Highway and Raymond Terrace Road) to meet demand. Metford Road must have more capacity and road networks in Thornton must also be updated.

The new hospital is an outstanding facility and it represents a new era in health care after 175 years of service from the existing Maitland Hospital.

I am proud of everyone in our community who has contributed to this hospital. We have all played a role as a community, working hand in hand with the Maitland Community Unions Alliance and all the other local unions to ensure the new hospital remained in public hands. We have fought for additional services and equipment and we will continue to fight for these and better transport links as we continue.

But for today, I am proud of what I saw last week, and what our community has achieved over the last decade. It will be a lasting legacy to the strength of collective action: the people’s hospital.

While a hospital is a series of buildings, it is the many people who work within it, the patients who heal there and the community that supports it which make the difference. Maitland people are the best people and I know our new hospital will be the best in our state, and I will continue to support it to be so.