Cessnock Council should be commended for standing up for the city and calling on the state government to build the proposed Lower Hunter hospital closer to home.
The councillors say the new hospital should be built somewhere along the Hunter Expressway, which makes a lot of sense.
For several years – since the O’Farrell Liberal government announced the Hunter would get a new major hospital – the development has been plagued by secrecy, indecision and politicking.
In 2013, the then Health Minister Jillian Skinner (pictured) announced that a former brickworks site at Metford, in Maitland’s eastern suburbs, would be the new hospital’s home. Since then, that decision has left many in the Cessnock area scratching their heads – understandably so.
Why would the government build a new hospital for the Lower Hunter region so close to Newcastle, when there are other viable options available? Now that the Hunter Expressway is open, a trip to Metford for someone from Cessnock, Singleton or the Upper Hunter is not likely to make a huge difference compared with the journey to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.
The reality is that it’s been six years since the site was chosen and there’s been no hint from the government that construction is going to begin any time soon, so this is a conversation that needs to be had before it’s too late.
Federal Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon has agreed with Cessnock Council that the new hospital should be west of Maitland.
In a column for Fairfax Media in the Upper Hunter this week, Mr Fitzgibbon said it made sense to build the facility on the edge of the Hunter Expressway – not at Metford.
Meanwhile, in the Maitland electorate, state Labor MP Jenny Aitchison – who has long been a vocal advocate for better public health services in her community – is pushing the government to stop playing politics and start building at Metford.
But if a start date for construction has not yet appeared on the horizon, the Expressway option should be part of the discussion.
Not only would it improve access to health care for people in Cessnock, Kurri Kurri and surrounding areas, it would provide a welcome economic boost for the city.
After all, isn’t it best that all avenues are thoroughly explored for the benefit of the community – especially when we are talking about something as expensive, complex and important as a new hospital?