Opinion: Are we over the PCH plague?

 Intensive Care rooms at PCH

Intensive Care rooms at PCH

Image from Department of Health WA

Image from Department of Health WA

Intensive Care rooms at PCH

Venine Palm, Reporter

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We’ve all heard of the saying “good things come to those who wait”, and when it comes to the long-awaited opening of the Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH), we sure hope this is the case.

Just two weeks ago the McGowan Government announced that the opening of PCH will commence in May, with the hospital opening in three stages: Stage one will give outpatients access to the facility from May 14; Stage 2 will open doors to elective surgery patients from May 2; and Stage 3 will see all remaining patients from Princess Margaret Hospital transferred by June 10.

Although the project has been plagued by problems WA Premier Mark McGowan said: “We’re very excited that we’ve finally got it underway … this has been a culmination of a huge amount of effort and work.”

While many public figures are seemingly looking at ‘the bright side’ now that the opening date has been set, it is safe to say some may be skeptical. After all, the past two-and-a-half years have included a series of ‘expected opening promises’ that have raised false hopes only to be met by yet another construction fail.

So rather than joining on the celebrations, let’s take a look at what was supposed to happen, what went wrong, and why remaining a little skeptical makes a lot of sense.

The ‘initial’ plan

In July 2011 the State Government announced that construction company John Holland had been awarded the stage one management contract for the construction of PCH. According to Global Construction Services (GCS), the initial plan included a start to construction in January 2012 with the hospital “due to open in late 2015″.

To say that a two-and-a-half year wait is a ‘slight’ deviation from the initial plan is an understatement.

What went wrong?

The list of construction defects is a bit too long to pinpoint an exact number of problems that occurred in the PCH construction project. But it’s not too hard to name a few that headlined in most major news outlets:

  • Lead was found in the water system
  • Almost 1000 defective fire door frames were replaced because they did not comply with Australian standards
  • Fragments of asbestos were found in roof panels, with four of seven samples testing positive for containing fragments of asbestos.

All of these problems and others contributed to the delays and came at a cost. Despite construction costs already being as high as $1.2 billion, a further $20 million was spent in compensation payments towards operators of the empty hospital car park.

Lack of communication, or lies?

As multiple news outlets reported on the on-going saga a confusing blame-game emerged as politicians and other players tried to find a scape-goat for each stuff-up. With the lead issue, there were sources saying it was the government’s fault for buying cheap brass fittings, and other saying it was because John Holland had allowed water to remain stagnant in pipes for too long. All of which is way too much information to revise again. But what about information you may not yet have heard? The fact that after the problem was encountered the Strategic Projects Committee waited three months to report the problem.

In September last year the Public Accounts Committee held an inquiry into the management and oversight of PCH. The transcript revealed that elevated levels of lead were found in test conducted in May 2017, however the Strategic Projects committee only alerted the task force on August 2.

When asked about the reason for the delay, Executive Director of Strategic Projects, Richard Man, argued that because the contamination was confined to one isolated area nothing seemed unusual, as this was a common occurrence in the early stages of installing portable water. Mr Man said: “it was considered that it would be addressed through routine flushing”.

The findings of the inquiry and the responses of Mr Man are interesting facts to consider in evaluating whether this was a case of miscommunication or whether it was a case of trying to draw the media, and the government’s attention away from organizational failures.

Last month a parliamentary committee concluded that the reason the project had so many ‘set-backs’ was “due to poor communication between basically everyone involved”.

Who’s fault was it? What now?

With almost every organization, governing body, or contractor involved pointing fingers at each other, it’s very hard to tell whether this will be the end of the plague of problems.

Let’s hope for the kids’ sake it is.

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About the Writer
Venine Palm, Reporter
Venine’s passion for all things news started when she was young girl babbling for hours on end about all the ‘need-to-know’s’, ‘sandwich stealing scandals’, and whatever else was happened in her world. Now, as a 20-year-old with ambitions and curiosities that go a lot further than a school courtyard, Venine has taken up media studies...
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Opinion: Are we over the PCH plague?