Cairns University Hospital

  • In 2020, the Queensland Government announced an operating budget of over $1 billion for the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service.
  • Cairns and Hinterland HHS has a vision for Cairns Hospital to transition to Cairns University Hospital by 2025.
  • University hospital status will facilitate expanded services, reducing the need to travel outside the region for medical treatment, and supporting workforce attraction and retention.
  • The CHHHS master planning process has identifi ed over $500 million in infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.
  • To attract, retain and educate the workforce required, JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry requires an extra 50 Commonwealth Supported Places, 30 International places and an allocation of scholarships through the Destination Australia scholarships program.

Expanded clinical services and a qualifi ed and comprehensive workforce at Cairns Hospital are critical for meeting the health needs of Tropical North Queensland’s (TNQ’s) growing population. Over the past fi ve years, the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (CHHHS) has addressed this need with an expansion of clinical services at Cairns Hospital, including:

  • locally based urology services;
  • a new adolescent ward;
  • 24-hour availability of the cardiac catheter laboratory and built a second cardiac catheter laboratory;
  • an expanded intensive care unit;
  • in-reach into nursing homes and increased geriatric support in the Emergency Department;
  • expanded cardiac outreach service;
  • a dedicated stroke service;
  • increased cancer care, renal dialysis and endoscopy services; and
  • increased telehealth services to provide care closer to home.

In 2020, the State Government announced an operating budget for CHHHS of over $1 billion. Additionally, work has commenced on the new $70 million Mental Health Unit and $67.9 million has been committed to expand the Cairns Hospital Emergency Department, build a preadmission clinic, a third endoscopy procedure room and hybrid surgical theatre and to provide critical upgrades at Cairns Hospital.

In the coming years, CHHHS is aiming to obtain university status to enhance the clinical services of its health facilities with expanded education and research. The agenda will be to provide excellence in health care, maximising the range of specialty services provided. This will reduce the need to travel outside the region for medical treatment.

Following these investments, the Cairns Hospital will be delivering its highest level of care to date. However, to cater for growing demand and address the critical health challenges facing TNQ, there remains an urgent need to recruit Cairns-based clinicians to provide specialist services currently being delivered elsewhere. The CHHHS completed a master planning process in 2019, identifying infrastructure needs worth over $500 million over the next 20 years.



In 2019-2020 there were 71,690 presentations to the Cairns Hospital emergency department, a 24% increase over the preceding five years. Throughout 2019 the emergency department faced unprecedented pressure, averaging 211 patients per day, a 4% increase on the previous year. Also 30% of emergency patients were tourists or people who live outside Cairns in rural and remote areas including Cape York and Torres Strait. Throughout 2020, the hospital managed the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic as well as normal health service delivery. From August 2020, there was a return of increased pressure on the emergency department with an average of 218-224 patients a day, despite tourists numbers being dramatically reduced due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The Cairns Hospital supports an estimated resident population of 259 230 and regularly provides acute medical services for residents of the Cape and Torres region (population of 27,643). Combined with estimated population growth of 1.79% per annum, and an ageing
population, it is estimated that by 2026 an additional 32,000 people will reside in the catchment area with close to one in five residents being over 65. The Cairns Hospital also provides medical services for the three million tourists that visit the region annually.

Demand for CHHHS services will therefore continue to increase, requiring continued investment in specialised training for the local health workforce, with current planning predicting an extra 80 inpatient beds are needed by 2022 and 223 extra beds by 2037. When combined with the expansion of university medical training facilities in the region, particularly by James Cook University (JCU), there is growing momentum to upgrade Cairns Hospital to Cairns University Hospital. For example:

  • Based within JCU’s Division of Tropical Health and Medicine, JCU proposes to establish a Tropical Global Health Centre to produce research-enabled clinicians with extensive clinical training in population health and global public policy. The Centre will leverage investment in the Cairns University Hospital to provide students with globally relevant training and deliver a medical workforce specifically prepared to handle regional health challenges. Although initially focused on the medical workforce, the program will subsequently expand to include nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, allied health and veterinary health professionals.
  • The CHHHS Strategic Plan includes a priority to build a Cairns Health and Innovation Centre (CHIC) in Cairns that will provide state of the art research and education infrastructure for the region. Once constructed, through partnerships with educators, scientists, medical practitioners and technology firms, the CHIC will ensure skilled health workers are attracted to, and remain in the region, building clinical capability to improve patient outcomes in the region.

Cairns Hospital was the first regional digital hospital in Australia, which demonstrates its ability to manage the operational change required to progress to progress to increased and more complex service delivery and become a university hospital.



To successfully transition Cairns Hospital to Cairns University Hospital, an expansion of selected specialty services is required over coming years potentially including endoscopy 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 TNQ. The State Government has funded the development of a Preliminary Business Case to support the transition to Cairns University Hospital including the CHIC as well as optimising the current Cairns Hospital footprint. This will identify options for a detailed business case and identify preliminary funding requirements.

Master planning by CHHHS has also identified the need for over $500 million in infrastructure during the next 20 years. In addition, to support the training and recruitment of Cairns-based clinicians, JCU requires an additional 50 Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) and 30 international places recurrent for the JCU Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) program. This will allow JCU to offer years 1-6 of the MBBS in Cairns and Mackay. The additional places will be distributed across the regional centres of Cairns (30), Mackay (10) and Townsville (40).

  • Additional infrastructure and operational funding will be sought following the business case process to facilitate the transition of
    Cairns Hospital to Cairns University Hospital.
  • That to support the training of a regional medical workforce, the Federal Government allocates an additional 50 Commonwealth Supported Places and 30 International places recurrent, together with an allocation of Destination Australia scholarships to JCU’s School of Medicine and Dentistry.

PROPONENT: Advance Cairns, Cairns and HInterland Hospital and Healthcare Service
FEDERAL ELECTORATES: Leichhardt, Kennedy