The battle to keep Shellharbour Hospital public has been won, and now scores of senior doctors have joined forces to fight for more funds for its redevelopment.
Eighty-two doctors from across the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) are signatories to a letter to the editor of the Illawarra Mercury calling on the NSW Government to ‘’fully’’ fund the project.
Doctors expressed their thanks to Health Minister Brad Hazzard, and parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward, for ‘’listening to the community and reversing the decision’’ to enter into a public-private partnership (PPP) for the hospital’s redevelopment.
However they claim the government’s justification for initially seeking a private partner back in September 2016 was due to the fact its 2015 commitment of $251 million for the upgrade was ‘’inadequate’’.
‘’In order for the NSW Government to now regain credibility and public trust, it must meet community expectations by fully funding this public hospital’s redevelopment,’’ the letter states. ‘’We now call upon the NSW Government to provide the necessary funding for Shellharbour Hospital’s redevelopment as a matter of great urgency.’’
Dr Geoffrey Murray, the director of the region’s rehabilitation network and one of the letter’s signatories, said the $251 million commitment was based on a service plan that was now five years old. ‘’The plan has to be updated and the funding needs to match the updated plan,’’ he said.
Assuming there was no additional funding, he said the current plan was for a two-stage development – with stage two to be completed 20 years after stage one.
However Dr Murray said the project needed to be completed far sooner if Shellharbour Hospital was to effectively operate as one of the region’s three major hubs, alongside Wollongong and Shoalhaven hospitals.
‘’The $251 million is a lot short of that required to develop Shellharbour as a separate relatively self-sufficient hub … functionally it is now more like a spoke,’’ he said.
‘’Currently 70 patients a week are transferred from Shellharbour to Wollongong – under the plan there would be a special care unit rather than an intensive care unit at Shellharbour so many patients would continue to be transferred.
‘’One medical administrator commented that he thought the patient transport corridor between Shellharbour and Wollongong was the busiest in the country.’’
Population increases would also be much greater in Shellharbour than Wollongong over the next 20 years.
‘’It will mean that in the 20-plus years after the redevelopment there will be increasing pressure placed on Wollongong Hospital from residents in the Shellharbour hub, because Shellharbour will not have the capacity and skills to manage many patients,’’ Dr Murray said.
‘’Looking at individual services, many service directors have concerns that delivery by their departments will be less than community expectations with the plan as it stands.
‘’But from the community’s perspective, the absence of maternity services is likely to cause the most vocal reaction from the community.
‘’I understand that the rate of births in the Shellharbour hub will be greater than the other hubs, but it will be the hub without a maternity unit.’’
Another signatory Professor Maureen Lonergan, the region’s director of renal medicine, said doctors were also concerned about the lack of transparency with the planning process so far.
‘’We’re concerned about the exclusion of the medical staff directly affected and involved in day-to-day care of patients at Shellharbour Hospital,’’ she said.
Dr Murray added: ‘’Doctors have a reasonable expectation that we will be involved in future planning going forward.’’
Mr Hazzard’s announcement on October 27 that the hospital redevelopment would begin next year, funded by the state, was welcomed by staff and community members who had been campaigning against a PPP for over 12 months.
At the time Mr Hazzard 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.’’
The upgrade will take place on the existing site and will include two extra operating theatres; a new emergency department; additional critical care services; increased acute inpatient surgical services and expanded outpatient clinic space.
Mr Ward will meet with five of the senior doctors next week to discuss their concerns, which he promised to raise with Mr Hazzard.
He said the government was getting on with planning with works to commence onsite mid 2018, following a thorough consultation process involving clinicians, staff, patients, carers and community members.
‘’I acknowledge comments made by a number of health professionals recently, but each redevelopment undergoes a thorough planning process which is tailored to the local community’s unique and region specific requirements,’’ he said. ‘’Clinicians have been and will continue to be consulted on the plans.’’
Mr Ward said NSW Health continually planned for changes in service requirements, being driven by changing population and to address region specific health challenges.
‘’I would point out that at the last election Labor committed a mere $30 million to Shellharbour Hospital – just 12 per cent of our funding commitment to this major redevelopment.’’
Meantime staff and community will celebrate the announcement there will be no PPP with a party at the Warilla-Barrack Point Surf Life Saving Club on Sunday from 12.30pm.
Doctors’ Letter to the Editor
We ISLHD doctors would like to thank Minister Brad Hazzard and Parliamentary Secretary Gareth Ward for listening to the community and reversing the decision to privatise Shellharbour Public Hospital.
The community strongly expressed support for the public health system. The staff – medical, nursing, allied health and other support staff also strongly expressed their belief in the public health system.
At the start of this process the Government identified the urgent need for redevelopment of Shellharbour Hospital and that the 2015 commitment by the government of $251 million was inadequate.
In order for the NSW Government to now regain credibility and public trust, it must meet community expectations by fully funding this public hospital’s redevelopment.
We now call upon the NSW Government to provide the necessary funding for Shellharbour Hospital’s redevelopment as a matter of great urgency.
Anna Di Marco
Ajay Prabhu Purushottam