2020: Hobart Hospital K Block (Tasmania) – Lead

Undrinkable tap-water and a leaking roof, K-Block’s list of defects goes on


August 20 2020

Almost five months after the Tasmanian Government announced it would take possession of the newly built K-Block building at the Royal Hobart Hospital, the facility still does not have drinkable water running through many of its taps.

Staff have been forced to cart bottled water around the 10-storey building, and the Health and Community Services Union is questioning when the problem will be solved.

Union state secretary Tim Jacobson said the situation was unacceptable, and that staff had still not been told when drinking water was expected to flow freely.

“It’s meant that, in pretty well every case now, to get drinking water to the wards it has to be moved around in containers so that patients, staff and visitors have drinkable water,” Mr Jacobson said.

“There have been issues raised in relation to safety, but it’s an additional task that people are now being asked to perform on top of obviously the massive workloads that they’ve got right now.

“Staff are of the view that this is likely to go on forever, and the hospital needs to put in place better systems and processes to ensure that staff and patients and visitors have access to drinking water on a regular basis, and that isn’t something on top of the already-burdensome workload staff are being asked to perform.”

The State Government took possession of K-Block in March to ensure it would be operational in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government was aware of lead contamination in the water supply at the time, saying flushing and testing of the water system would continue during operational commissioning, with alternative drinking water supplied to operational commissioning staff and contractors until then.

‘Hospital not fit for purpose’

At the end of last month, the Mental Health Inpatient Unit moved into K-Block, which the Government said marked the occupation of all 10 floors.

Labor health spokeswoman Sarah Lovell said the water issues raised questions over safety, as well as who would pay to fix them.

“It’s very concerning that they’ve taken over a hospital that is not fit for purpose,” she said.

“If the drinking water is not up to standard, they can’t argue that the drinking water is fit for purpose.”

Health Minister Sarah Courtney said a defect list was still being worked through with the managing contractor.

“Much of the drinking water issues have been resolved, however where drinking water is still undergoing testing, there is clear signage on those taps and we’re also ensuring we have bottled water available,” she said.

“It’s my very clear expectation that we make sure we have safe water for our staff and our patients.”

Not the end of the issues

K-Block has also faced water issues of a different kind.

The reception area has been leaking after incidents of heavy rainfall, including after last week’s heavy downpours.

“It has to be an embarrassment to the Government and to the hospital that the new front entrance has buckets and towels down soaking up a significant amount of water when we get a deluge like we’ve had over the past week or so,” Mr Jacobson said.

Ms Courtney said the reception area leak was also on the defect list.

“My expectation is it will be fixed as quickly as possible,” she said.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation branch secretary Emily Shepherd said there were also communication issues in K-Block.

“There are mobile blackspot issues in some areas, we understand that a permanent fix is being worked on,” she said.

The Government said the builder was responsible for fixing any issues in a timely manner and at its own expense.

Lead found in water supply at new Royal Hobart ward


Feb 6 2020

The water supply at a new building at the Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH) has lead contamination, with construction workers drinking from it, a union says — but the Tasmanian Government will only confirm testing has returned “unsatisfactory results” and it still expects the facility will open by end of this month.

The much-anticipated opening of K-Block — as part of the $689-million redevelopment of RHH — is seen as key to helping ease capacity pressures at the hospital.

Michael Anderson from the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union said he had heard the company managing the project, John Holland Fairbrother Joint Venture, was having trouble commissioning the building’s water supply.

He said the union decided to investigate by undertaking some testing of its own; and of the two samples tested, one returned a positive result for lead.

Ben Moloney, the RHH redevelopment project director, said samples at the facility had returned with “unsatisfactory results”.

“Flushing of plumbing is a standard requirement for major new buildings. This is essential because new plumbing fittings must be flushed to remove trace heavy metal materials,” he said.

But Mr Anderson said the union was concerned.

“There was no direction or signage on site to say do not drink this water,” he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for John Holland Fairbrother Joint Venture said it was committed to the safety of people on the site.

It said independent water sampling routinely taken had returned results “within the Australian drinking water guidelines”.

Premier Peter Gutwein said the Government would not open K-Block until it was satisfied with the building — but that he still expected it to be in use by the end of this month.

He said recruitment was underway to ensure the extra 44 beds could be properly staffed.

“We have been setting Australian records in terms of the amount of staff we have been recruiting into our hospital system,” he said.

“We are well above the national average in terms of staff per thousand in the key and critical areas.”

In a statement, Health Minister Sarah Courtney said the Government was “now in the very final stages, but ensuring it is safe, fit-for-purpose and compliant is a responsibility we do not take lightly”.

“Throughout the build, the project team has routinely taken expert advice to ensure the Government’s rights under the contract have been protected on behalf of taxpayers and we make no apologies for doing so.

“The project team is currently assessing that request and taking expert advice regarding remaining building and contractual matters, including the final flushing and treatment of the water supply in line with standard hospital building commissioning practice.”

Ms Courtney said the Government was “working towards the commissioning of patient services as soon as possible”.