Fitzroy Crossing Renal Hostel remains empty and unused a year after completion. (Supplied: Peter Bennetts)
Dialysis facilities worth $17 million are sitting padlocked, empty and unused in WA’s north, due to what the Health Department says are issues with contracting and water quality.
In 2015, the then-Barnett Government funded two 20-bed accommodation complexes and a new dialysis unit in the Kimberley, to help address the backlog of mainly elderly Aboriginal people requiring life-sustaining treatment for kidney failure.
But issues with contracting and water quality mean none are operating, despite construction finishing in the first half of 2017.
WA Country Health Service Regional Director Bec Smith said the delays were unfortunate, but not the result of mismanagement.
“The dialysis unit is heavily dependent on plumbing and water, and it has to go through a number of tests before we can make that unit operational,” she said.
“Unfortunately some of our water testing has failed for a number of reasons.”
“It’s good in a sense that we’re picking up the issues from a patient safety and a diligence perspective, but it is unfortunate for the people of the Fitzroy Valley that it has delayed the opening.”
In the meantime, two dialysis chairs are operating out of the local hospital, where the water quality meets standards.
The delays opening the new unit mean two new dialysis chairs are going unused, limiting the number of people who can be treated in the Fitzroy Valley to 12.
Winning awards, but empty
Down the road, a $7 million accommodation complex for dialysis patients has been gathering dust since construction finished a year ago, along with a $6 million hostel in Derby that was finished in July.
The Department said it had not been able to find an organisation willing or able to run them.
“We put out a registration of interest, looking for external providers to come in and run those two hostels, but unfortunately we had to decline all offers and the contracts were not successful,” said Ms Smith.
“So since that time we have been doing further due diligence work, and looking at what the next steps are … for Fitzroy Crossing we are in communication with some potential providers, and for Derby we are looking to go to registration of interest in a matter of weeks.”
The sign outside Derby Renal Hostel, which was due to open last year. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)
The Fitzroy Crossing accommodation recently won an international architecture award, something Kimberley MP Josie Farrer said was little consolation to dialysis patients in need of a bed.
“I think it is one of the best buildings that I have seen, but I am just amazed at the time it has taken in regards to opening this place,” she said.
“It is such a beautiful building — it is just missing the people in it.”
Opposition Health spokesman Sean L’Estrange said the delays were unacceptable.
“It is a very concerning situation, as the former Barnett Government committed to building these facilities because of the need in the Kimberley region,” he said.
“We had them ready to go, and all the Labor government has had to do in the last 12 months is appoint a contractor to make sure the water was working, to make sure the facility was staffed, so people in the most need in that area can access those essential health services.
“They should be hurrying up, and delivering these services to the people of the Kimberley.”
The WA Country Health Service said water testing and contract negotiations were continuing, and it hoped to have all three facilities open mid-year.
Backlog of patients reducing
Kidney failure is on the rise in northern Australia, and expensive to treat, but the Health Department said the backlog of patients awaiting treatment in northern WA was reducing.
Over the past decade there has been a shuffling of patients between towns and cities, to try to get often elderly and Aboriginal patients access to treatment close to home.
Ms Smith said the addition of new dialysis chairs over the past five years had allowed more than 20 Kimberley residents to return from Perth.
“Before the Kununurra and Derby dialysis units expanded, in 2013, we had about 31 people in Perth waiting to come back for dialysis,” she said.
“Today, there are nine people in Perth waiting, wanting to come back … those families will say it is nine too many, but to us it is at least better than the 31.”