Tamworth is set to get a new mental health hospital with eight extra beds after the replacement of the existing Banksia Mental Health Unit, the Minister for Mental Health announced today.
But Minister Bronnie Taylor could not detail how long the upgrade would take, or how much it would cost.
The new 'greenfield' institution will contain 33 beds, she confirmed. And it will be "co-located" with the Tamworth hospital at one of three sites the Minister did not identify on Monday.
It's taken years to get to this point, with the election-promise upgrade delayed until the completion of a massive consultation campaign conducted to develop a Clinical Services Plan to govern the project.
Tamworth Mental Health Carers' Support Group, which has been lobbying for a new facility since 2018, had asked for as many as 50 beds.
But Ms Taylor said the 33-bed number was based on data developed through the Clinical Services Plan process.
"It's absolutely research and data-driven. Through the Clinical Services Plan we look at demand at current, we look at potential demand and then we look at what we're going to do. We're looking decades ahead when we're planning this. That's what the evidence clearly showed us," she said.
Community groups will co-design the new hospital facility.
Asked how long consultation would take, she said she wants to get concrete pouring "as soon as possible", but frankly admitted co-design would likely be a slow process.
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson, who said the announcement came on a "red-letter day", committed that the new facility would be "co-located" with the Tamworth Hospital.
"It does have to be close to the hospital. There are challenges where we are today in proximity with the hospital. So this facility has to be close to the emergency department," he said.
"All the stats, the Clinical Services Plan, all of the doctors, the nurses, the clinicians say it has to be close to the emergency department, so we'll look very closely at the sites that are available and start that work."
In 2018 the Tamworth Mental Health Carers' Support Group collected 12,000 signatures demanding a new Banksia Mental Health Unit.
Stalwart campaigner Joan Wakeford, who has a son who struggles with a mental health problem, said she would be involved in the co-design process "until I die".
"I'm so old I remember when the community believed they owned the hospital. And with my father I took one of my cows to the local hospital because that was the milk supply. So the community really is big with health services and continues to be big with health services."
Fellow activist Diane Wyatt was in Queensland during the announcement.
She said she was a little bit disappointed that the new hospital would contain only 33 beds.
But she said quality was far more important than quantity and said the announcement left her "over the moon".
"It's going to be a much nicer place for people to go," she said.
"It's going to be more comfortable, more secure. It's going to have all the right things going for it this time."