Nurses win five out of five in battle to defend regional public hospitals
Almost 18 months after it vowed to privatise five regional public hospitals, the NSW government quietly conceded the last facility – Maitland Hospital – would stay in public hands.
In a news release on 25 January, Health Minister Brad Hazzard said: “After much consideration, we have decided on a public health-led approach for the brand-new Maitland Hospital at Metford.”
“Some $5 million has been allocated in the 2017/18 State Budget and planning for construction will commence immediately.”
His announcement marked the final victory of a union-led, community campaign that forced the government to abandon – hospital by hospital – its plan to have the five facilities privately built and operated.
In 2016, former Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the government would call for private tenders to build and run more than $1 billion in hospital projects at Wyong, Goulburn, Shellharbour, Bowral and Maitland.
Nurses and other health workers warned that privatisation would limit public access to care, degrade the quality of service, reduce staff conditions and restrict staff training opportunities.
Labor and the Greens also strongly opposed any privatisation.
Our campaign swayed the government
Mr Hazzard acknowledged that community and staff opposition helped sway the government.
”It was put to me strongly that the community wouldn’t embrace a [non-public] hospital,” he told Fairfax Media.
“Staff have to love where they are,” he added.
Acting general secretary of the NSWNMA Judith Kiejda described the Maitland win as “a five from five victory. Five hospital privatisation backflips from the NSW Liberal–National Coalition”.
“This is a very sweet victory for hundreds of nurses and midwives who work and live in Maitland and the surrounding areas.
“It signifies the collective power of local workers, community members and health sector unions to achieve the best possible outcome when common sense prevails.
“From the outset, our members were steadfast in their opposition to a ‘public–private partnership’ or anything other than a publicly owned and operated new hospital to service their rapidly growing community.
“We recognise the contribution of private health care and our members who work in it. But we are strongly opposed to our public health system being handed over to private operators.”
Judith said branch members never wavered despite former Maitland MP Robyn Parker and former Health Minister Jillian Skinner continually ignoring their concerns about patient safety and the delivery of public health services under a hybrid model.
“As advocates for safe patient care and a robust public health system, local nurses and midwives knew they had a professional obligation to speak up on behalf of the Maitland community.
“They continued to lobby for a publicly built and run, new state-of-the-art hospital.”
PETITION COLLECTS 25,000 SIGNATURES
Labor MP for Maitland Jenny Aitchison said she never doubted the campaign to stop privatisation would succeed.
“We had a petition with 25,000 signatures . . . 25,000,” she told The Maitland Mercury.
“Everywhere I went people were telling me to keep fighting, so I did.
“Besides, when a hospital isn’t government funded, so many grey areas arise. What happens to things like assisted dying – whatever your views are on that – or IVF, or sterilisation … suddenly you have a bottom line, profits and losses that come into the equation.
“And what about staffing levels? The public sector has set nursing ratios that must be adhered to, but the private sector just says staffing must be ‘adequate’. Who determines adequate?”
She said the new hospital would be “a resource that everyone in the community owns; it will work better for the whole Hunter–New–England Health system”.
“We won’t lose those government-backed jobs, we’ll be able to maintain ratios for staffing, we’ll
have accountability in terms of reporting. It’s a really good outcome.”
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