Nurses union: Keep Maitland Hospital public

October 28, 2016
The October 23 rally which demanded that Maitland Hospital stay public.

The New South Wales government has announced plans to privatise hospitals in Maitland, Wyong, Goulburn, Shellharbour and Bowral. But people are fighting back.

A rally in support of keeping the new Maitland Hospital public was held on Sunday October 23 at Maitland railway station, where general secretary of NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association BRETT HOLMES gave this speech.

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Thank you to all the members of the Maitland community and broader Hunter community who are here today. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land upon which we stand, the Wonnarua people and their elders past and present.

I also acknowledge nurses and midwives, other health workers and the very good and passionate people of Maitland and your local member of parliament, Jenny Atchinson. All of you are here today to stand up for a public health system in Maitland paid for by public money and run by the public health system for the public.

The Mike Baird government has been promising you a new, much needed public hospital for years now and rather than being able to celebrate this fact, Maitland along with four other regional hospitals in NSW have been told they’ll be privatised. You have all been held to ransom by the Baird Government for years. We’re here today because Maitland deserves better.

Last Sunday we attended a rally in the Central Coast where at least 2000 hospital workers, nurses, midwives, doctors and concerned community members came out and sent a loud message: “Premier Baird, if you think we’re going to stand by while you Americanise our health system, you can think again!”

Good people of Maitland, just last Thursday the people of Goulburn were advised of their success in avoiding the privatisation of their new hospital. Of course, out of the five current hospitals on the gift register, it was the only one in an electorate held by a government minister, in fact the Assistant Health Minister who clearly faced losing her seat in parliament as a result of her community’s response to privatisation.

That of course means the voice of Maitland has to be louder and stronger to tell Mike Baird that privatisation is not the way to go. It’s clear to us that this government has an agenda to privatise anything they can get their hands on.

If you haven’t already heard, here’s the list of what Mike Baird has put on the auction block or, rather, gift register: hospitals; electricity networks; land property information; community services; public housing; the public trustee and guardian; sport and recreation; prisons; the Powerhouse Museum; TAFE; disability services; Service First; superannuation funds administrator Pillar Administration; court reporters; government records; and public works.

When will it end? Clearly not until there’s nothing left and Baird’s mates at the rich end of town have had their fill of profits.

Where is the sense of community, compassion and caring? We are at risk of turning into the United States where patients delay treatment for fear of costs, or file for bankruptcy because they cannot pay their medical bills.

Our members waiting to be migrated to the privatised Northern Beaches hospital are already telling us that there’s a two-tier system emerging within the hospital under construction. One side for the public and one side for the private with different services being offered. An ICU level 5 in the public and an ICU level 6 in the private.

Imagine you or your loved one in the Public ICU, but really needing the Private ICU and the Private Hospital Corporation telling you can have higher level of care if you just agree to pay more! What a moral and financial dilemma you will face. If this isn’t Americanisation then what is?

The Minister for Health is trying to sell you a lie by saying in parliament that Public Private Partnerships or PPPs would be similar hospital models to Newcastle's Calvary Mater.

Hospitals like Calvary Mater are Affiliated Health Organisations or AHOs that are under far greater control of the Minister for Health. Affiliated Health Organisations like Calvary Mater are under direct funding obligations to deliver public health services on a like for like basis to the public hospitals. This is quite different to the privatised contract model being offered now. The minister and her local mouthpieces are comparing apples with oranges!

What’s more, employees of AHOs receive the same rates and conditions as staff of the NSW Health Service as a condition of their funding. So, important patient safety protections like mandated nurse-to-patient ratios remain intact. The model we’re dealing with is a very different PPP. Think Port Macquarie Hospital and now the new Northern Beaches Hospital.

In this type of arrangement, the hospital is privately leased and owned for forty years but is under a contractual agreement with the NSW government to deliver public services on an average per patient cost for twenty years.

You have to be concerned as to what a private operator will do when one of those public patients costs more than the average cost they are getting paid. Normally private hospitals transfer those expensive sick patients to the public hospital. Sounds like John Hunter Hospital gets to carry that extra load.

Let's be clear. Transferring public employees for whom there is an equivalent position will become employees of the private entity but will retain public award conditions and their jobs for two years, after which the private operator can seek to include the staff in the company’s enterprise bargaining. 

The minister swears up and down hill that they’ve learned their lesson from Port Macquarie and it will be done differently this time. But one thing will remain the same: the profit motive of private operators. Private corporations are answerable to their shareholders and as long as it’s about the bottom line we are at risk of becoming an Americanised healthcare system.

What the minister also hasn’t considered is the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP. Under the TPP deal, or any other trade deal currently being negotiated by the multinational corporations, privatisation is a one-way street. Foreign corporations can sue governments for millions of dollars in international tribunals if they can argue that a change in policy, such as returning a hospital to public ownership and operation, will harm their investment. It’s a very serious risk we take if we let the privatisation of hospitals go through in NSW. 

This is money for jam for the private hospital corporations who cough up minimal investment up front, use hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to build the new hospital and then after two years they can cut expert nursing staff, cut entitlements, force staff to cut corners, then make a hefty profit once in operation. What a nice gift the government is giving them for 40 years!

The government promises there will be cost savings by privatising. Of course private hospital corporations promise a profit to shareholders. But who sees these savings? And who gets caught between government savings and profits for shareholders? Patients and staff, that’s who.

Are you as a taxpayer personally benefitting from the poles and wires sell off or, like me, are you seeing your energy prices steadily go up? Make no mistake, the same will happen with health and everyone should know it.

The only way we’re going to be heard is if we make them hear us with rallies like this and getting out there and talking to our friends, family, neighbours and anyone who will listen about the dangers of privatisation and Americanisation.

I don’t think I need to tell you that as nurses and midwives we are 100% committed to fighting this tooth and nail. But unless we commit now to taking this issue right up to the state election and kicking Baird and his profit-hungry mates out of governing us, we won’t have a chance of turning this around.

Will you stand with me today? Then let’s keep Maitland Hospital public!

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