It was a full house at a sometimes heated public forum on Shellharbour Hospital’s future on Monday night.
Hundreds of health workers, patients, concerned residents, union representatives and politicians packed an auditorium at The Shellharbour Club to discuss the government’s proposed public-private partnership (PPP) for the ageing facility.
Addressing the forum, Labor’s health spokesman Walt Secord urged the NSW Government to invest in the hospital, rather than ‘’pass the buck’’ to the private sector.
Mr Secord said the government’s announcement last September that the hospital would be redeveloped under a PPP came with ‘’no warning or consultation’’.
‘’This community will not have the protection or scrutiny of a public hospital under this plan,’’ he said.
‘’If it all sounds like an American system, you’re right. That’s a system where your wallet determines your quality of care, where people have to make decisions about whether they can afford to save a loved one. It’s a system where illness and injury can lead to financial ruin.’’
Health workers, and their union representatives, also outlined their concerns at the forum, where a resolution was unanimously passed opposing the PPP.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Shellharbour representative Glenn Hayes said the plan could only lead to poorer patient outcomes.
‘’Our community deserves access to quality and affordable healthcare,’’ he said. ‘’However no private provider in NSW provides ratios for patient care, meaning nurses will have a greater patient load. We’re also concerned that a private provider will employ less experienced, or less qualified, staff.’’
The crowd also heard from doctors, concerned that services would not be maintained by a private operator.
‘’In our ward, public and private patients are treated the same. They are all treated with dignity and respect and based on clinical need, not insurance status,’’ Illawarra palliative care services director Dr Greg Barclay said.
Rehabilitation network director Dr Geoff Murray added: ‘’This privatisation model has failed in all states, but despite the litany of past failures the government still wants to test the model on our community.’’
However parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward said public patients would continue to receive healthcare for free under the proposal.
‘’Expressions of interest have been received and it’s going through the assessment process; if it comes back and it doesn’t benefit public patients then I will oppose it,’’ he said.
‘’The $251 million I secured at the last election will be allocated this term; that doesn’t change whether it’s a public or public-private model.’’
Mr Ward added: ‘’… The only reason I’m entertaining this is that there are dollars the private sector can invest – if that means more services and new opportunities then I’m happy to see if that can occur.’’
After the panel of speakers, a Q&A was held with many health workers and residents able to raise further concerns – with emotions sometimes running high.
A panel, including Mr Secord and Mr Ward as well as South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, fielded questions about nurse-to-patients ratios, guarantees on services being maintained and possible foreign investment in the hospital.
Staff have waged an ongoing campaign against the proposal with a number of rallies held across the region since last year’s announcement.
Last month a petition signed by more than 12,000 Illawarra residents opposing the PPP was presented at Parliament House to prompt parliamentary debate in the coming weeks.