Governments have to clean up the mess left by private contractors.
The People’s Inquiry into Privatisation received details of “numerous” public hospitals that had been wholly or partly privatised, only to be returned to public control.
They were handed back to governments after “catastrophic contracting failures endangered service provision to the public”, the inquiry said.
The inquiry report cited examples from all states including Port Macquarie Base Hospital (NSW), La Trobe Valley hospitals (Victoria), Modbury Hospital (South Australia), Robina Hospital (Queensland), Mersey and North West Regional hospitals (Tasmania) and Fiona Stanley, Perth Children’s and Midland hospitals (Western Australia).
The report said privatisation seriously affected hospital cleaning services – a crucial element in disease control and patient safety.
It found that new contracting arrangements under privatisation required cleaners to work at a faster rate, to the detriment of public safety.
Cleaners also suffered reduced job security, making it difficult for them to speak out about employment and hospital hygiene issues.
A submission by the Uniting Church’s Justice and International Mission cited evidence from the UK where the contracting of cleaning services has largely been abandoned due to failures relating to staff retention, training and engagement that produced serious infection control issues.
Even more work for nurses
The inquiry report cited Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) where cleaning services were contracted out through a “public– private partnership” (PPP) but had to be returned to public control due to ongoing problems.
The report said that in 2008, the NSW government announced that in order to redevelop RNSH, a PPP would be entered into with a consortium called Infrashore, which would build the new facility and provide ‘soft services’ and maintenance services until 2036. After this time, the hospital building would be handed over to NSW Health.
A confidential submission to the inquiry outlined some of the problems including disputes over the quality of service provided after cleaning and portering staff numbers were cut by 20 per cent.
“Patient care was being delayed by a lack of porters and the nurses were picking up extra work. Delays with cleaning beds after a patient was discharged at one point reached six hours – causing a huge backlog of patients in the emergency department.
“This had a debilitating impact on an already struggling service and the RNSH branch of the NSWNMA resorted to writing to Jillian Skinner MP, NSW Health Minister, begging her to intervene.”
Earlier this year it was announced that consortium member ISS lost the contract for soft services and Healthshare (part of NSW Health) was to take over for 18 months.
“This was to bring the service up to the level required at which point it will then go out to private industry to tender for the ongoing contract,” the inquiry reported.
It noted that the retail arm of the PPP had clashed with the hospital volunteers who run a shop with all profits donated to the hospital.
“Not only was the volunteer shop relegated to a low traffic area, a rival convenience store was opened close to the entrance, taking a lot of the volunteer shop’s business.”