NSW nurses campaigns for public hospital

The billboard against hospital privatisation on Sydney's northside. Photo: nswnma.asn.au.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NMWA) has commissioned a billboard on Sydney's northside to send a message to Premier Mike Baird to stop the privatisation of the new hospital planned for the city's Northern Beaches.

The billboard, featuring nurses from the area, displays the slogan: "Stop the privatisation of our Northern Beaches Hospital”.

The NMWA has been coordinating a grassroots campaign with members and community representatives who are opposed to the privatisation of the new facility, currently earmarked for a 6.5 hectare site at Frenchs Forest.

Judith Kiedja, acting general secretary of the NMWA, said on September 8 that the billboard was deliberately chosen to help raise public awareness that the Coalition state government plans to hand over the new hospital to a private operator under a 20-year lease.

"The nurses and midwives featured in the billboard represent the hundreds of highly skilled and dedicated health professionals who are concerned about the adverse impacts a privately-run hospital will have on the local community.”

A July poll by ReachTEL showed that 76% of Manly residents surveyed were concerned by the NSW government's plan to privatise public hospitals and health services. In early September, NMWA members presented 700 postcards signed by community members opposing the private hospital plan to Baird's electoral office.

Kiedja said on September 3: "For decades residents on Sydney's Northern Beaches have had access to public health services via the Manly and Mona Vale Hospitals. Now the NSW government wants to strip away that access by closing Manly, downgrading Mona Vale and signing a 20-year contract with a private operator.

"Despite repeated questions and concerns being raised, the government is ignoring the local community and the fact that public-private partnership models for public hospitals have a history of failure in this country. Port Macquarie Base Hospital was a failure and cost the taxpayers millions when the government had to buy it back.

"Our members are right to be concerned about the government's secrecy surrounding the new level five hospital, how the public-private services will operate, the future of nurse-to-patient ratios, as well as equal access to care.

"The NSW Ministry of Health has stopped consulting with us about the transfer arrangements and working conditions our local nurses and midwives can expect — leaving them in the dark until a successful tender is announced and all their contracts are signed on the dotted line.

"This is another example of the government's privatisation by stealth agenda. They are not concerned about putting patient safety first, their only objective is to destroy universal healthcare by introducing an Americanised two-tier system where the public is forced to pay over and over again.”

A leaflet issued by the NMWA says: "Privatised hospital models have a history of failure in Australia.

"Experts estimate this as being in excess of 50% for public-private partnership hospital models.

"Port Macquarie Base Hospital in New South Wales, La Trobe Regional Hospital in Victoria, and Queensland's St Vincent Hospital in Robina all had to be bought back by the state at taxpayers' expense after mismanagement under private operators.

"Fiona Stanley Hospital in WA managed and operated by private corporation Serco has been plagued by problems that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The Barnett government has recently announced it will strip Serco of providing key clinical services and these jobs will revert back to the Health Department.

"A powerful parliamentary committee in WA released a report confirming the hospital was already $330 million over budget. This blowout includes an extra $52.7 million to Serco.

"The Queensland government also revised a decision to fully privatise the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital because 'the private sector can't match the public service on cost’.

"The fundamental reason for a corporation to provide health services is to make a profit for shareholders. The NMWA believes that the profit should be fully available for public health delivery, not for the benefit of shareholders....

"Private corporations run healthcare in America — and are running it into the ground. Their healthcare is expensive, patients are forced to pay more and have worse health outcomes. Do we want our hospitals to head down the same path?

"Access to healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Australians pay for this right to healthcare through our taxes. Keeping our Northern Beaches Hospital completely public is the only way to ensure that all Northern Beaches residents, irrespective of their ability to pay, will be provided quality patient care.”

[Visit Keep It Public for more information on the Northern Beaches Hospital campaign.]

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