NSW government backs down on hospital sell-off plans

A protest against the privatisation of Maitland Hospital in October 2017.

"This is a very sweet victory for hundreds of nurses and midwives who work and live in Maitland and the surrounding areas," acting general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) Judith Kiedja said on January 26.

She was commenting on the confirmation that the new Maitland Hospital at Metford will be a publicly built and run facility.

The local NSWNMA branch had campaigned vigorously for several years against the Coalition state government's move to privatise the new Maitland Hospital. The union had insisted that the government's push for a Public Private Partnership (PPP) or for-profit model would compromise service delivery and safe patient care.

"From the outset, our members were steadfast in their opposition to a [PPP] or anything other than a publicly owned and operated new hospital to service their rapidly growing community," Kiedja said.

"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 and continue to lobby for a publicly built and run new state-of-the-art hospital," she said.

The government's about-face on the move to privatise Maitland Hospital is the latest in a series of backdowns by the NSW government on its project to sell off a series of regional hospitals. Former health minister Jillian Skinner opened up more than $1 billion in hospital upgrades at Wyong, Goulburn, Shellharbour, Bowral and Maitland to private tenders for construction and operation in 2016.

Current health minister Brad Hazzard's announcement on January 26 that all of them would now be entirely government run was a major win for the NSWNMA and the 18-month community campaign to defend the public hospital sector.

Goulburn Base Hospital was saved just a month after the Skinner statement in 2016, with Wyong next, and the others last year. The backdowns were only announced in local media, to avoid a more widespread public reaction.

However, the government has persisted with its decision to award private company Healthscope the contract to build a new Sydney Northern Beaches Hospital at Frenchs Forest, due to open late this year.

Hazzard claimed that higher rates of private health cover in the more affluent Northern Beaches compared with regional areas made the local population easier to convince of the merits of private sector involvement!

NSW Labor opposition health spokesperson Walt Secord said the decision to shelve the plan was a tactic to see the government through to the next election, and would be revived if it won.

"Make no mistake, this is about Premier Gladys Berejiklian looking after her own job," Secord told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Nevertheless, the defeat of the government's hospital sell-off plan is an important victory for the union movement and the people, faced with a relentless push by the NSW Coalition government to privatise massive chunks of the public sector in the state.

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