People power stops privatisation
Three saved, two to go in our campaign to prevent five regional public hospitals from being gifted to the private sector.
The NSW government has backed off from privatising Wyong and Bowral hospitals after immense pressure from nurses, midwives, along with two other health unions and local communities.
Three out of the original five hospitals targeted by former health minister Jillian Skinner will now be retained in public hands. The government had previously announced Goulburn hospital would remain public.
Shellharbour and Maitland hospitals are the two other hospitals that remain under threat.
The decision of the Berejiklian government to walk away from plans to privatise Wyong and Bowral hospitals came after ten months of hard campaigning by nurses and midwives alongside community members, public health advocates and local health workers.
NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes says the govern-ment finally came to the only sensible decision.
“Without a doubt, this is a welcome result and shows that commonsense can prevail when governments are prepared to listen to all stakeholders,” he said.
“The previous health minister made a serious error of judgement when she announced last September that Wyong, Bowral, Goulburn, Shellharbour and Maitland would be redeveloped under private–public partnerships without consulting staff, community members or health unions.
“There is overwhelming evidence showing public–private partnerships are an expensive, ill-fitting model when it comes to the health sector.
“Handing over public hospitals to be built and run by private operators results in a loss of accountability, a lack of safe patient care and more taxpayers’ dollars being gifted to private shareholders. The residents of Wyong understood this and didn’t want to see it happen to their local hospital.”
A hospital that belongs to the community
The fight to save Wyong Hospital began immediately after the announcement of its privatisation in October last year when over 2000 health staff and community members flocked to Morrie Breen Oval in Kanwal to voice their anger over the loss of their hospital to private interests.
People at the rally were particularly incensed at the lack of respect paid by the government, with no consultation either with staff or the community before the announcement.
This was made worse by the knowledge that the hospital had benefited greatly over the years from the generosity of local residents and businesses through donations to pay for much-needed equipment.
Over the last ten months, nurses, midwives and community supporters have been tireless in taking their message to the wider community through stalls, forums and rallies as well as leafleting at markets and railway stations and letterboxing. They have also lobbied local MPs and built local networks through social media. They collected more than 34,000 signatures on a petition that was presented to parliament.
Strong support from their colleagues at Gosford hospital and throughout the Central Coast also helped.
Pam Illingworth, a delegate at Wyong hospital, says the government underestimated the Wyong community.
“People were never given a voice. I perceived people thought they were treated with contempt. It didn’t matter what the community wanted. We weren’t being listened to. We were just told this was going to happen.
“I think it was people power that changed their minds. If you stick together you can do great things. If we had sat back and done nothing we would have lost.”
And now for Shellharbour and Maitland…
Our campaign to defend our regional public hospitals from privatisation now focuses on Shellharbour and Maitland hospitals.
Branch official Glen Hayes says nurses and midwives at Shellharbour Hospital take a lot of heart from the decision to abandon the privatisation of Wyong and Bowral hospitals.
“I’m really pleased that they’ve done that. I don’t know what impact it will have on Shellharbour. It looks as if the government is still looking at going ahead with the privatisation here. Gareth Ward (the local Liberal MP) said as much last week. People are optimistic but nothing has changed from our perspective until we hear an announcement to the contrary.
“People are really determined to carry on the fight. We are totally committed to it. We want services publicly provided.
“You can’t run a health service on profit. They aren’t as effective in terms of care delivery. They don’t have the same standards. They’re not transparent.”
Glen says support for the retention of Shellharbour hospital in public hands is strong and growing.
“We’ve only just had a community forum and we are reaching out to community organisations.
“On 10 August, they’ll be debating the Shellharbour privatisation in parliament. We will be presenting the 14,000 signatures that we’ve collected. We are also getting local groups like the pensioners and the superannuants to come up with us to show a community response as well as a union one.
“Until we find out what’s going to happen we’re going to continue the way we’ve been.”