Cairns Health & Innovation Centre

Advance Cairns calls on the Queensland Government to invest in key projects in the FNQ Health and Innovation Precinct as part of our continued push to diversify the economy and build a resilient future for the region. This submission marks the first phase of Advance Cairns’ advocacy ahead of the 2024-25 Queensland Budget.

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (CHHHS) face escalating demands due to a growing population, surpassing the rate of healthcare service growth. The 2022-2023 CHHHS annual report highlighted Cairns Hospital’s support for a resident population of 289,000, extending acute medical services to the vast Cape and Torres region. Notably, the hospital witnessed a 2.2% surge in Emergency Department visits, totaling over 88,000 presentations in 2022.

Forecasts indicate a compound annual growth rate of 2.13%, estimating an additional 67,000 residents in the catchment area by 2032, with a substantial aging demographic, surpassing the national average by a third.

The pressing need to cater to this swelling population underscores the necessity for expanded health services, clinical research, and education in Far North Queensland (FNQ). Meeting these escalating healthcare demands is pivotal to adequately serve FNQ’s burgeoning and aged population, necessitating robust advancements in healthcare provision, research, and education.

Benefits to the region

The proposed enhancements promise a multitude of benefits, strengthening service capacity and ensuring superior service delivery throughout Far North Queensland (FNQ). Moreover, they pave the way for expanded research and education prospects, fostering a conducive environment for innovation and knowledge advancement. This initiative also presents substantial investment opportunities, attracting potential investors and propelling economic growth in the region.

Furthermore, these developments position the area to capitalize on its global tropical medicine and rural generalist expertise, enabling the region to become a focal point in these specialized fields. Additionally, it aims to attract and retain skilled clinicians, addressing critical gaps in healthcare personnel and services. Importantly, these improvements are poised to significantly enhance the health and wellbeing of First Nations People, addressing longstanding disparities in healthcare access and outcomes.

Moreover, this initiative aligns with bolstering climate resilience, an increasingly vital aspect in the face of environmental challenges. Ultimately, these endeavors are anticipated to yield improved health and wellbeing outcomes for all Queenslanders, marking a significant step towards achieving comprehensive healthcare accessibility and fostering overall societal wellbeing.


The Queensland Government commits to capital funding for the detailed design and construction of the Cairns Health and Innovation Centre as per the detailed business case findings.

Advance Cairns will submit an updated recommendation to the Queensland Government informed by the findings of this business case.

Project overview

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service must support a growing population whose demand for healthcare services consistently outstrips population growth. The CHHHS annual report for 2022-2023 highlighted that Cairns Hospital supports an estimated resident population of 289,000, including the regular provision of acute medical services for residents of the Cape and Torres region, an area larger than Victoria¹. Cairns Hospital continues to see increased demand on its Emergency Department with more than 88,000 presentations to the Cairns Hospital Emergency Department alone in 2022, a 2.2% increase on 2021.

Combined with an estimated population growth of 2.13% (compound annual growth rate) per annum and an ageing population, it is estimated that by 2032 an additional 67,000 people will reside in the catchment area with more than one in five residents aged over 60 – a third more than the national average².

Expanded health services, clinical research and education are critical to meeting the needs of FNQ’s large and growing population. Cairns Hospital faces a number of sustainability challenges, including:

• Short- and long-term infrastructure capacity – Cairns Hospital is now at capacity across all bed types with no hospital bypass option. By 2036-37, this gap is predicted to be more than 360 beds. Capacity is a critical risk and immediate planning is needed for a new acute clinical services building to ensure sustainable health service delivery for the medium term.
• Site constraints and resilience – Cairns Hospital is the smallest block of developable land for comparable hospitals, and the waterfront location creates service continuity risk (through flooding and storm surge exacerbated by climate change).
• Workforce and innovation – CHHHS needs to increase its locally grown health workforce to enable it to deliver expanded services closer to home. Innovation, continuing education and translational research is the key to attracting and retaining the appropriately skilled workforce that is required to meet the growing health demands of the Far North.

Transitioning Cairns Hospital to a university hospital will allow it to deliver world-class, high-quality care to address the critical current and future health challenges facing FNQ. This will result in more complex medical and surgical services, with more skilled and highly trained clinicians servicing a growing population which includes a cohort from the Cape and Torres Strait living with material health and wellbeing deficits. In addition to this, developing region specific research and innovation capability will result in preventative medicine and interventions that are fit for purpose for the population and environmental conditions unique to the Far North.

To ensure a successful transition, an expansion of bed capacity and selected specialty services is required over coming years, such as high specialty needs for older persons, paediatrics, adolescent mental health and other medical and surgical specialties. This will also include new expanded clinical and professorial roles. This will be delivered through strong partnerships, the right infrastructure, and expanded provision of safe and sustainable clinical services for FNQ.

¹ The State of Queensland (Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service) Annual Report 2022-2023
² The State of Queensland (Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service) Annual Report 2020-2021

This submission marks the first phase of Advance Cairns’ advocacy ahead of the 2024-25 Queensland Budget.

Last updated: 17 November 2023

2024-25 Queensland Budget Submission

View the full list of projects and policies that feature in our 2024-25 Queensland Budget Submission.