Regions reject hospital privatisations
Packed public meetings show health care privatisation is a hot topic in regional communities.
People were angry – they just disagree 100 per cent with the idea of privatisation.”
That’s how nurse Laura Valenzuela summed up the mood of a public meeting called to discuss the proposed privatisation of Shellharbour Hospital on the NSW south coast.
About 300 people packed the Shellharbour Club to hear speakers including representatives of the NSWNMA, state MPs and local councillors.
The Liberal member for Kiama, Gareth Ward, sidestepped a questioner who asked him: “If it’s clear that this community does not want a PPP (public-private partnership) will you support the wishes of your community?”
“I don’t know what’s going to come out of this process,” he replied, to the obvious anger of the meeting.
Shellharbour mayor Marianne Saliba told Mr Ward: “Why did the state government put this hospital out for a tender process in the first place? You are trying deliberately to destroy this city.”
Shellharbour is one of five regional public hospitals to be converted to PPPs under a NSW Coalition government program announced in late 2016.
The then Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, invited expressions of interest from private and not-for- profit operators to build and run Maitland, Wyong, Goulburn and Shellharbour hospitals and to operate Bowral Hospital.
At the time of the announcement General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, said the “appalling” decision meant the government was effectively gifting the hospitals to private companies.
He warned patient care and patient safety would now be subordinate to the profit motive of private operators, pushing the health system further towards the American model.
Quality and cost of private care questioned at Shellharbour
At the Shellharbour meeting, Glenn Hayes, president of the Illawarra mental health branch of the NSWNMA disputed the government’s claim that privatisation would not affect standards of care.
“I don’t know how this can occur. No private provider in NSW provides ratios for patient care,” he pointed out.
There was no answer to Shellharbour Hospital nurse Nadia Rodriguez’s question about how much access public patients would get under a PPP model. “I would like to know how many beds are going to be allocated to private patients and how many to public patients, knowing that the majority of people in the Illawarra do not have private health insurance,” she asked.
Shellharbour nurses were supported at the meeting by NSWNMA branch members from nearby hospitals.
Nilda Miranda, a member of the Port Kembla hospital branch said: “I’ve seen what privatisation can do to a country. I’ve seen people handing over not their credit card but a cheque at the front of the clinic. And if they can’t provide that they get no services.”
Wollongong Hospital nurse Naomi Hayes said privatisation of Shellharbour Hospital would hurt Wollongong Hospital too.
“Everyone is concerned about what’s going to happen if Shellharbour Hospital is privatised. What’s going to happen to the services and the care? Everyone is concerned for the community.
“Wollongong is already under pressure because of the growth in the area. The main thing is, don’t give up the fight.”
The meeting finished with an overwhelming vote against privatisation.
Bowral told PPPs “fail repeatedly”
Earlier, at the Bowral Memorial Hall, 200 people heard Dr Geoff Murray, Clinical Director of Rehabilitation Services for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, described how the PPP model of care had “failed repeatedly”.
“Port Macquarie Hospital, La Trobe in Victoria, St Vincent’s Robina – all of these had to be bought back by their governments,” he said.
“We must make it clear to the NSW government that handing over public hospitals to private corporations is totally unacceptable.”
Bowral Hospital nurse Margaret Samuel said the meeting showed that residents were “concerned about what the PPP actually means, what services are going to be lost or added and how is the $50million for redevelopment of Bowral Hospital going to provide for a proper redevelopment.”
“A lot of the questions weren’t answered. Maybe that’s because they don’t have the answers yet, I’m not sure.”
One community member asked Liberal MPs: “How can we the public believe you will made an unbiased consideration when we know that Ramsay made considerable donations to help you get elected?”
200 people attend Maitland forum
In Maitland, the local newspaper the Mercury hosted a public forum that drew around 200 people anxious to hear details of the government’s plan for the local hospital.
The CEO of Hunter New England LHD, Michael di Rienzo, told them: “We are awaiting a decision from government to determine if we will proceed past the expression of interest phase and into a request for a proposal.”
Michael Lawler, a member of the John Hunter Hospital branch of the NSWNMA, said that response was disappointing.
“They have already had four to six years and they really can’t give us any more information and any guarantee about when the hospital will be built and when it will take its first numbers.”
Another John Hunter branch member, Clare Bolton, said evidence showed that “privatisation – complete or partial – of public services does not provide more efficient services, does not provide safer patient care, and certainly does not provide a better outcome for the staff that work in those services.”
“I asked the panel whether or not they could guarantee that there would be no negative impact on service provision to the community, safety of patient care or degradation of staff employment terms and conditions.
“There was no guarantee there would be maintenance of nurse-to-patient ratios or maintenance of skill mix ratios within the wards and clinical services.”