‘Keep Shellharbour Hospital public’ petition hits Parliament

The consensus inside Macquarie Street on Thursday afternoon was clear – make a decision on the proposed public-private partnership of Shellharbour Hospital. 

In a move that caused a stir amongst the Illawarra’s Labor MPs and campaigners in the public gallery, even the region’s Liberal parliamentary secretary demanded an answer from Health Minister Brad Hazzard on the issue.  

“Hurry up and get this thing done,” Gareth Ward said, during debate over a 12,000-signature petition to keep the hospital public.

“Whatever decision you make, I want to see the facts, I want to see the evidence and I think it’s high time that this debate was brought to a close.

“We all want to know all of the information, it’s time to make a decision. I ask you to do that, Minister.”

Earlier, Shellharbour MP Anna Watson told the NSW Parliament’s Legislative Assembly that Illawarra residents had “made their feelings undeniably clear”.

“We have evidence from every corner of the community ... we all stand together and collectively reject this government’s privatisation agenda,” Ms Watson said.  

“This is not a political issue. These are people’s lives.”

Then Health Minister Jillian Skinner revealed in September last year that Shellharbour was one of five regional hospitals to be upgraded under a public-private partnership (PPP).

The government has since shelved PPPs at Wyong, Bowral and Goulburn hospitals, with a not-for-profit being sought to build and run a new Maitland Hospital.

Member for Wollongong Paul Scully said it was “time the government listened” to what the Illawarra had to say.

“It’s time they backflipped on their decision to privatise Shellharbour Hospital, like they’ve done with every other one they’ve proposed this for,” Mr Scully said. 

Keira MP Ryan Park told the chamber the region was known for its “fighting spirit” and the message attached to the hospital petition was “loud and clear”.

“Over 12,000 people have made it very clear that this is a hospital that should remain in public hands,” Mr Park said.   

Mr Hazzard acknowledged the petitioners, telling them he was working to deliver “the best possible facilities”.

“I respect the fact that the community would like a resolution, I’ve got to say I’d like a resolution,” he said.

“I’d like to get the answer as quickly as I can, but also there’s still a lot of work for me to do … to make sure that I deal with each of these issues that affect Shellharbour, the community and the staff in an appropriate way.”      

Mr Ward reaffirmed he would “not support any proposal that doesn’t advantage public patients”.  

“We don’t have all of the facts on the table. I want to know what benefits could flow from partnering with other organisations,” he said.

Shellharbour Hospital staff, residents up for healthy debate

Campaigners, including Shellharbour nurse Silvana Dimovski and resident Irene Hatzipetros, travelled to Sydney. Picture: Robert Peet

Campaigners, including Shellharbour nurse Silvana Dimovski and resident Irene Hatzipetros, travelled to Sydney. Picture: Robert Peet

After a busy nightshift at Shellharbour Hospital’s emergency department, nurse Silvana Dimovski had less than two hours sleep before hopping on a bus to State Parliament on Thursday.

For the registered nurse – who’s worked at the hospital for two decades – supporting the campaign to keep it in public hands is a priority.

Ever since the ‘’shock announcement’’ last September that a public-private partnership was planned for the hospital, the 44-year-old has waved placards and chanted slogans at rallies and pounded the pavements seeking signatures for petitions.

And, the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association member said, the resounding sentiment among staff, patients and residents was for the state government to ditch plans for a PPP.

‘’The community is rallying behind us – I hear it at the shops, on the street, and on the wards,’’ Mrs Dimovski said.

‘’I’m fighting for my patients to have quality care, for the community’s right to have equitable access to their hospital. And I’m fighting for my colleagues and I to have job security, to not lose our current salaries and entitlements.’’

Mrs Dimovski was the first in her family to get a university degree, and enjoyed work experience at Shellharbour Hospital at just 15 years old. She got her first job at Port Kembla hospital where she stayed for five years before moving over to Shellharbour.

‘’We have a ratio of four patients to one nurse in the ED, but have been campaigning for a ratio of three to one,’’ she said.

‘’We fear under a private provider, there’ll be no certainty over ratios or skill mixes.’’