Eye and ear hospital gets $165m renewal

Ted Baillieu at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 2009.A LONG-AWAITED $165 million redevelopment of Victoria’s crumbling Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital will be completed within five years, the state government says.
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Premier Ted Baillieu said the project would go to tender early next year with construction due to be complete by 2017.

Work will be done in stages and patients will continue to be treated at the East Melbourne hospital while the project is under way.

Mr Baillieu said the redevelopment would allow the hospital to treat an additional 7000 patients a year, helping it meet growing demand.

”Obviously the building here has done a lot of work,” he said. ”In many ways it is a just a little bit weary and it needs an upgrade.”

The hospital treats 250,000 patients a year, performing more than half of Victoria’s public general eye surgery and 90 per cent of specialist eye surgery.

Works to modernise the East Melbourne hospital are long overdue, with its two 10-storey, 30-year-old towers having been left in poor condition for many years.

Around 2004, chunks of concrete fell off the facade, costing $6 million to repair, and occasional internal flooding has been a long-standing problem.

Hospital chief executive Ann Clark said: ”We’ve patched and patched and held it together as long as we can, but it’s really timely now to get on with this.”

Mr Baillieu did not put a final figure on the project, but he said the state government was still committed to spending $165 million on the redevelopment, which it promised while in opposition.

”We will go to market with the plans and the final costs will be not only fully funded but will be revealed at that time,” he said.

Ms Clark said staff and patients were ”thrilled” that the long-planned redevelopment, promised by both Labor and the Coalition in the lead-up to the 2010 election, would now proceed.

The hospital’s towers are poorly linked and only on lower levels, but the redevelopment will provide a connecting building with five fully integrated floors for patients.

Improvements will be made to the emergency department, operating theatres and medical imaging clinics, and glass walkways will join five upper levels to be used for research and teaching.

Ms Clark said the redevelopment would allow the hospital to better meet growing demand for its services from an ageing population.

The hospital treats a large number of people from interstate, including Tasmanian Dean Bucknell, 44, who was born blind and has been travelling to the hospital since he was eight weeks old.

He has congenital glaucoma and has had more than 50 surgical procedures at the hospital.

”The building does need some repair. It’s inefficient. There’s too much travelling, walking about. It’s like a rabbit warren,” he said.

The Monash Children’s Hospital is still waiting for substantial funds towards a promised $250 million redevelopment, which experts say is urgently needed to meet growing demand in Melbourne’s south-east.

The Coalition promised $60 million in its first term for the hospital, with the remaining $190 million to be delivered in a second term. To date it has allocated only about $15 million for planning and land acquisition.

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