Shellharbour Hospital will remain in public hands.
Staff received the news they’d been long hoping for on Friday afternoon after a 13-month campaign to stop a proposed public-private partnership at the hospital.
Parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward told the Mercury that the government will now go ahead with the $251 million redevelopment of the ageing facility on its current site.
The upgrade will include a new emergency department and two extra operating theatres. It will also deliver additional critical care services, increased acute inpatient services and expanded outpatient clinic space.
Work is expected to start in the new year, with the bulk of construction to take place in 2019, though no completion date was available.
‘’At the last election Labor proposed $30 million for Shellharbour Hospital – the NSW government is now delivering on its promise of $251 million,’’ Mr Ward said.
‘’I’m absolutely delighted with the result. I’ve said from the start that if the proposal for a public-private partnership didn’t stack up then I wouldn’t support it.
‘’I’ve listened to the community, I’ve attended every meeting I’ve been invited to on the issue.
‘’And last week I told (NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard) that due to the delays, and the lack of information around the proposal, plus the community concerns – then I could no longer support it.’’
In making the announcement Mr Hazzard said the government was committed to ensuring that the Shellharbour community received a ‘’world-class hospital’’ as soon as possible.
‘’Shellharbour Hospital was neglected for so long by Labor so our plan was always ‘how do we deliver the best facility for staff and the community and where’,” he said.
“I promised the local community we would look at every option but after assessment of the expression of interest from providers, and after listening to community views, the NSW Government has determined that a Government-led approach is the best way forward.
“I want to thank Shellharbour Hospital staff and the local community, including its very strong advocate MP Gareth Ward, for working with us as we considered redevelopment plans.”
Staff at Shellharbour, and the closely affiliated Port Kembla hospital, celebrated after the announcement – having been called in to an urgent staff meeting just after 3pm.
Nadia Rodriguez, from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association’s Shellharbour branch, said she was absolutely ecstatic with the announcement.
‘’The meeting was packed so I had to sit on the floor, but when I heard the news I literally jumped up and down and everyone cheered,’’ she said.
‘’We’ve literally been campaigning for 13 months and wearing our hearts on our sleeves and to finally get the correct decision is amazing.
‘’What this means is that we have universal health care for everyone; our patients will continue to receive high quality care and our staff finally have security.
‘’It’s a victory for everyone.’’
Staff and their unions, and community members, have waged a strong campaign against the proposal since then health minister Jillian Skinner announced in September 2016 that it was one of five regional hospitals to be upgraded under a PPP.
Those plans have been abandoned at Bowral, Goulburn and Wyong hospitals while the government is seeking a non-profit operator to build and run Maitland hospital.
Mr Ward said while tough, the campaign had provided the government with a wealth of information of staff, and community, needs.
‘’We’ve listened very carefully to what the community have had to say,’’ he said. ‘’And while it’s been a very difficult period, it’s also given us a greater insight into the healthcare needs of the southern Illawarra.’’
However Shellharbour MP Anna Watson said the fight had been ‘’won by the community, not by the member for Kiama’’.
‘’It’s a win for every single person who attended a rally, and who signed the petition,’’ she said.
‘’Now I’m calling on Kiama MP Gareth Ward for a start date – the promise was made in 2015, now we want to see it delivered.
‘’We’re already a year’s worth of work behind.’’
Ms Watson’s Labor colleagues – Keira MP Ryan Park and Wollongong MP Paul Scully – backed her calls for a timeline for the project.
Meantime Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes called it a ‘’famous victory’’ for the community.
‘’From the moment this privatisation was announced, hospital workers were up in arms. They know the hospital system is already stretched and that privatisation will only make things worse,’’ he said.
‘’This is a famous victory and it’s one that is well deserved. Community interest has triumphed over corporate greed.
“Public health in Australia is sacred and it should not be compromised by profit.
‘’Shellharbour Hospital workers and their supporters deserve to celebrate in style. This is a hard earned victory.’’
NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes congratulated staff and residents for their ‘’tireless campaigning’’.
“Our members have been living with this uncertainty for more than a year, which put their job security under a cloud, not to mention fears over the lack of guaranteed safe patient care and accountability under a public-privatised model,’’ he said.
‘’We stand by the evidence that indicates public-private partnerships in the health sector don’t work.’’
And South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris added: ‘’The history of the Illawarra has been marked by struggle. Nothing has been won without it and this victory for the community is up there with the best of them.’’
Meantime Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District chief executive Margot Mains said the redevelopment of the hospital would enable the district to continue to provide the ‘’best possible services’’ for the growing southern Illawarra community.
‘’I look forward to working together with our staff and community towards the redevelopment, with a continued focus on providing high quality care to our patients, their families and carers,’’ she said.