Health workers and community members held a candlelight vigil outside Shellharbour Hospital on Thursday evening, as its future lies in the balance.
The crowd was united in its opposition for a proposed public private partnership (PPP) for the hospital and called on the NSW Government to commit to keeping the facility in public hands.
Shellharbour and Port Kembla Public Hospitals Community Group coordinator Irene Hatzipetros said residents and staff had been lobbying for 12 months – and wanted an answer.
‘’We’re fighting against any privatisation or partnership,’’ she said. ‘’We’re basing our decision on past experiences of privatising hospitals – it just doesn’t work.
‘’A lot of people can’t afford private health insurance and are hugely concerned about their access to vital services under the proposal.
‘’There’s a huge demand for services in this area, which is rapidly growing, and those services need to be readily available to every member of the community.’’
Health Services Union regional organiser Renee Sheridan said services at Shellharbour, and the closely affiliated Port Kembla Hospital, would suffer under a PPP.
‘’We’re worried about services,’’ she said. ‘’Staff are also worried about job safety and conditions.’’
On August 30, Shellharbour Council’s Labor candidates signed a pledge of support for a fully-funded public hospital. At midday on Thursday Wollongong Council’s Labor candidates did the same at Port Kembla Hospital.
At the vigil Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation industrial officer Damien Lee said private investment had been taken off the table for three other regional hospitals – Bowral, Goulburn and Wyong.
‘’Why is Shellharbour any different, why is it taking so long to get an answer?’’ he said.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard was questioned about Shellharbour Hospital’s future during a budget estimates hearing on Wednesday.
‘’It is under review. The site is very constrained,’’ he said. ‘’Along with NSW Health, the ministry, the local health district and Health Infrastructure, I am looking at what we can do to maximise the development on the site and to deliver a fantastic new hospital.’’
‘’However, I am still considering how we can best achieve that.’’
Mr Hazzard said he had gone ‘’back to the drawing board’’ on the project after he and Kiama MP Gareth Ward met with local staff and residents.
‘’Some of them supported the project, but some raised concerns about the public-private partnership model,’’ he said.