Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward will today call on his own government to drop any plans to part-privatise Shellharbour Hospital.
Mr Ward told the Mercury that while he had initially been open to exploring the benefits of a public-private partnership (PPP), he had lost patience with the ongoing delays on a decision and lack of information around the proposal.
‘’I’ve been waiting for a decision on Shellharbour Hospital for over 12 months and I think I’ve been patient enough – as have the community and the staff,’’ he said.
‘’(Today) I’m meeting with NSW Health Minister (Brad Hazzard) and I will be telling him that because there hasn’t been able to be a decision made, my recommendation is that the hospital remain a fully public facility.
‘’I’m not in a position to entertain the concept of a PPP anymore ...and it’s my view that the government should proceed itself with the $251 million redevelopment of Shellharbour Hospital.’’
Staff and their unions, and community members, have waged a strong campaign against the PPP ever since then health minister Jillian Skinner announced in September 2016 that Shellharbour was one of five regional hospitals to be upgraded under a PPP.
Those plans have been abandoned at Bowral, Goulburn and Wyong hospitals while the government is seeking a non-profit operator to build and run Maitland hospital.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he had read Mr Ward’s comments in the Mercury with interest on Tuesday.
‘’Gareth is to say the least very passionate about representing his community, and obviously not afraid to stick it to a minister,’’ he said.
‘’It’s very good for a local minister to express his concerns and I’ll cop that on the chin.
‘’We’re trying to make a decision as quickly as we can … and I guess Gareth has put a fair-sized boot up my backside to make that decision.’’
Mr Hazzard said as health minister it was his job to deliver the best health outcomes for the community.
‘’Shellharbour Hospital is definitely in need of renewal but the question is whether to proceed with a renewal on the existing site or move to a greenfield site.
‘’We’re still finalising whether it’s possible to do a partnership arrangement with a private or not-for-profit organisation, and whether that produces a better outcomne for the community or not.
‘’We’re hoping to have finality very soon.’’
Mr Hazzard reassured community members without private health insurance that they would be able to access the hospital for free under any model.
He also promised that if a partnership model was chosen he would come to Shellharbour to explain the reasons behind the decision making to the community.
In June, hundreds of health workers, patients, concerned residents, union representatives and politicians packed an auditorium at The Shellharbour Club to discuss Shellharbour Hospital’s future. Mr Ward was the lone NSW Government representative.
‘’I turned up to the meeting and I listened but I have no further information for the community on this proposal than I had that day,’’ he said.
‘’I care deeply for the workers and community members who want to have confidence in our public health system, and I want to make sure that’s maintained.
‘’I’ve always said I’m open to see if there could be any opportunities for the hospital through private investment, but it’s clear the community is not interested in that and I’m going to respect that view.’’
On Tuesday night, a passionate crowd attended a Politics in the Pub event at Kiama Inn – many furious about the lack of information from the government. Staff and union leaders addressed the crowd, arguing for patient care to be put above the profits of a private provider.
Now at least one Liberal MP is on their side. ‘’It’s tough to take a stand against your own government but the community has spoken loud and clear,’’ Mr Ward said.