New State Health Minister Brad Hazzard will meet with Shellharbour Hospital staff to discuss concerns over the proposed public-private partnership.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward said he had approached Mr Hazzard on behalf of the Shellharbour branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, with the Minister agreeing to meet with delegates in coming weeks.
Mr Ward said while the government had received a number of expressions of interest to rebuild and run a redeveloped hospital, no final decision had been made.
He said while he could see the benefits of a PPP, he acknowledged that former Health Minister Jillian Skinner had ‘’failed in properly engaging staff and community’’ on the proposal.
‘’We know the issue has been contentious – now we have a new Minister so let’s see if there’s an appetite to utilise private investment to benefit public patients, if arrangements can be worked out so everyone benefits,’’ Mr Ward said. ‘’If that works great; if it’s something the community doesn’t accept then that’s a conversation we need to have ... so the Minister is informed of all the views before a decision is made.’’
Mr Hazzard confirmed he’d be meeting with delegates: ‘’I have spoken to Gareth, who wants to make sure that whatever hospital facilities are delivered, are the best possible. He told me he would like me to listen to the concerns of representatives in the area, including the union and I’m looking forward to that opportunity.’’
NSWNMA Shellharbour branch delegate Glenn Hayes has welcomed the move, as he said Ms Skinner had continually refused to meet with staff over concerns.
‘’Giving multinational companies access to our healthcare does endanger universal healthcare in this country,’’ he said.
Mr Hayes said staff wanted to know if a private provider would have an escape clause to get rid of services if they proved unprofitable; they also wanted to know if staff-to-patient ratios would be included in any contract.
‘’No private operator has ratios for patient care so that’s a real concern for patient safety. These providers also tend to decrease the skill mixes of staff, which will again reduce standards.’’
Hospital staff have gathered 10,000 signatures from colleagues and community members to present to parliament when it resumes.
Meantime a group of 48 senior Illawarra doctors have signed a letter (read in full P21) to the Mercury, which calls on Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and Mr Hazzard, to also meet with clinicians.
‘’We are extremely concerned that elderly, disabled and psychiatric inpatients will be discharged prematurely in order to maximize profits,’’ the doctors stated.
‘’We are also concerned that outpatient services such as cardiology, respiratory, plastic surgery, endocrinology, dialysis, rehabilitation and palliative care will be adversely affected.’’
Mr Hazzard said: ‘’I would urge doctors who are also keen to discuss the proposal, to reach out to Gareth and be part of the delegation.’’
Illawarra doctors’ Letter to the Editor
We senior doctors in the Illawarra believe the new Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has a wonderful opportunity to reset the government’s agenda, restore community trust in the government’s leadership, and return people to the heart of their government’s health program.
One of the most urgent issues that Ms Berejiklian must confront is the misguided decision to privatise regional hospitals, including Shellharbour and Port Kembla Public Hospitals. Handing control of these vital community assets to a private operator will compromise the level of care provided to patients, and put more pressure on the already-stretched Wollongong Hospital.
There is a clear contradiction between the mission of a public hospital to ensure all citizens can access high-quality health care, and the goals of private operators seeking to maximize their profits.
We are extremely concerned that elderly, disabled and psychiatric inpatients will be discharged prematurely in order to maximize profits. We are also concerned that outpatient services such as cardiology, respiratory, plastic surgery, endocrinology, dialysis, rehabilitation and palliative care will be adversely affected.
Furthermore, as a teaching hospital, Shellharbour Hospital plays a critical role in giving junior doctors and nurses essential practical experience. However, training is not an income generating service, so the private operator will not have any incentive to prioritise training activities.
We are heartened by Ms Berejiklian’s commitment to govern for all people in NSW. Equally, we are encouraged by new Health Minister Brad Hazzard’s commendable track record in evidence-based policy making.
We urge the new Premier and the new Health Minster to meet with clinicians from Shellharbour and Port Kembla Hospitals to discuss our concerns, and keep our hospitals as public assets for the entire community.
Ajay Prabhu Purushottam