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ACT Health

About ACT Health

ACT Health aims to deliver healthcare and health-related services.

Headquarters Location

Woden, Australian Capital Territory,


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Latest ACT Health News

'Could have been better': ACT Health admits errors with Calvary fire

Mar 13, 2023

Copy The fire which disrupted Calvary Public Hospital Bruce on December 6 was "located" in a surgical boom, inset. Picture by Regina Procter, inset is Creative Commons Health authorities have conceded they could have done a better job telling the public about a fire that shut Calvary Public Hospital Bruce's operating theatres in December. A senior director of communications at ACT Health admitted there was "a lot that could have been done better" when communicating publicly about the fire, internal emails released under freedom of information laws show. FOI documents show: Authorities initially considered calling the fire an "incident". Internal discussion about which photo to use in a social media post slightly delayed the release of information on the day of the fire. A Calvary executive called frank comments made by the Health Minister and ACT Health in an article "problematic". A letter for doctors compared the impact of the fire on surgery operations to the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Emails revealed that an ACT Health senior director wanted communications to be assessed in any reviews or debriefs of the fire. "I think there's a lot that could have been done better (both by Calvary and us)," they said. When asked to expand, an ACT Health spokesman said: "ACT Health believes it would be beneficial for both organisations (ACTHD and Calvary) to look back at the emergency response and see what communications processes worked well and what could be improved for future responses." What caused the fire? A fire broke out in operating theatre six in the Xavier building at Calvary Public shortly after 12.30pm on December 6. One staff member was setting up the theatre, and a patient was being operated on in a nearby theatre. The hospital was partially evacuated, with about 30 patients affected. On the day, the Emergency Services Agency said it believed the fire started in a roof cavity. Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith was told two days later in a ministerial briefing that a piece of equipment had caught fire. A ministerial briefing to Chris Steel from December 16, who was then acting health minister, revealed that Fire and Rescue believed a surgical boom had caught fire, but investigations were ongoing. Evacuated patients wait outside Calvary on December 6. Picture supplied In January, Calvary regional chief executive Ross Hawkins told ABC radio: "the information that we have at the moment from Fire and Rescue was that it was an electrical fault in a piece of equipment." A Calvary spokeswoman said on Monday that the cause of the fire was still unknown, but it was "located within a boom". "Calvary Public Hospital Bruce concurs that ACT Fire [and] Rescue confirmed the theatre fire ... was located within a boom, within the theatre. However, the actual cause of the fire remains subject to ongoing investigations," she said. A surgical boom is a piece of equipment designed to keep cords centralised. It may have electric and gas outlets. The minister's 'problematic' comments Calvary executive Mr Hawkins called comments made by ACT Health and Ms Stephen-Smith in an ABC news report "problematic", emails to ACT Health reveal. "There are a couple of comments in this article which are problematic (one from the directorate and one from the minister)," he said. "It would be good to discuss our approach to media regarding the fire." Calvary regional chief executive Ross Hawkins called comments by Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, pictured, "problematic". Picture by James Croucher In the online article from December 9, three days after the fire, Ms Stephen-Smith said the operating theatres would be unusable for "quite some time". "There is absolutely no way Calvary will be able to meet its elective surgery target this year," she said. ACT Health was quoted once in the story, saying that arrangements were in place to allow staff from Calvary Public Hospital to help by working at different hospitals while maternity services were on bypass. A Calvary spokesperson did not answer a question about what Mr Hawkins found problematic about the comments. The Canberra Times also understands some health officials were initially reluctant to admit a fire had broke out, with a draft media document from the day calling it an "incident". However, all published communications did state there had been a fire. Plea to surgeons In what was described as a "surgeons' letter" - a draft document from December 21 addressed as "Dear Dr" - doctors were implored to help ease pressure on the public system. The letter was "appealing to our surgical community" to ensure urgent patients were operated on, and compared the impact of the fire to the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020. It asked surgeons to prioritise urgent patients, consider declining referrals from outside the ACT catchment area and avoiding accepting non-critical patients from outside the ACT. "Consider diverting Medicare ineligible patients not requiring tertiary level care across to the private hospital system, and [adding] public patients to your private lists," the letter said. READ MORE: "The flow-on and challenges that we are facing are not dissimilar to those of the COVID shutdown in 2020, which you responded to with compassion and commitment." The letter said many urgent elective surgery patients would not be treated within the recommended timeframe of 30 days. "There are approximately 250 Category 1 elective surgery public patients listed at Calvary and it appears that a number of these patients will not be able to have their surgery within the recommended timeframe before the end of the year," it said. "There is also a significant number of Category 2 patients who will also potentially face delays. As you can appreciate, this effect is likely to flow-on to the ACT waitlist." We've made it a whole lot easier for you to have your say. Our new comment platform requires only one log-in to access articles and to join the discussion on The Canberra Times website. Find out how to register so you can enjoy civil, friendly and engaging discussions. See our moderation policy here . Share

ACT Health Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • Where is ACT Health's headquarters?

    ACT Health's headquarters is located at Woden.

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