ACT government puts patients ‘in danger’

The ACT Government has potentially put the lives of Canberrans, including newborn babies, in danger by allowing patients to receive medical care while covering up the fire risks associated with external aluminium cladding at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children, says Shadow Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Nicole Lawder. 

Ms Lawder’s comments follow a recent assessment that shows there is a multi-storey building at Canberra Hospital, which used a small amount of Polyethylene Aluminium Composite Panels (ACPs) as a façade cladding.

“This hospital was supposed to be the most advanced facility of its kind in Canberra but instead we have learned that it could be on the verge of a massive fire disaster at any time,” Ms Lawder says.

“By Minister Gentleman’s admission, the ACT government was aware of the fire safety risks associated with external wall cladding before the Centenary Hospital was built.

“Centenary Hospital construction began in 2010. In the Assembly today, however, Minister Gentleman confirmed that the government was aware of the fire risks associated with the cladding used at the hospital in 2009. The fire risk was again confirmed by the directorate in 2012.

 “Nevertheless, the construction of the hospital with combustible cladding was completed in 2013 and only now in 2017 has the Minister advised the combustible material is to be removed.”

Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris says ACT Health’s assessment has found that between five and 10 per cent of the panels at Centenary will need to be replaced.

“ACT Health is assessing whether it can remove the panels before replacement panels become available,” she says.

Further work to replace the panels is dependent on a number of factors, and will begin by the end of 2017 and be finished by the mid-2018.

“Centenary Hospital is a modern, safe building. It was built and designed to the highest standard. Staff, patients and their families, and the Canberra community can be reassured the building is safe,” Ms Fitzharris says. 

“But this is a hospital. We expect a higher standard. We want the public to have complete confidence and we will remove these panels.”

ACT Health has also conducted regular fire system checks, increased the frequency of emergency drills and is in regular contact with members of the Emergency Services Agency and Access Canberra Building regulator.

“These agencies are confident patients and staff are safe in this building,” Ms Fitzharris says. 

“In the unlikely event of a fire – with or without these panels – the building is designed to keep patients and staff safe, by stopping the spread of fire.

“It is important to emphasise that the Centenary Hospital was constructed in complete accordance with the building regulations and standards at the time, as is the case with all ACT Health buildings.”

Neither UCPH nor the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit has panels, which will need to be replaced.

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