Privatising hospitals makes people sick

March 5, 2020
A 2016 rally by the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association against the privatisation of the Maitland Hospital.

Health professionals, community groups and the general public have been arguing for some time that privatising public hospitals is a health disaster.

A NSW parliamentary inquiry has come to the same conclusion, recommending at the end of February that the NSW Coalition rule out further such privatisations. A Legislative Council report released on February 27 cited the disaster-plagued privately-run Northern Beaches Hospital as the key reason.

The inquiry found that the hospital, which replaced the Manly and Mona Vale public hospitals, had “lurched from crisis to crisis” since opening in late 2018.

It found the public-private partnership (PPP) hospital model had a worse impact on people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and recommended that the emergency department be reinstated in the Mona Vale Hospital.

After examining the hospital’s standards of service, staffing and PPP arrangements it found that because the privatised operator was detailed “to maximise returns to its shareholders” it did not provide a good public service.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard disagrees and said the Northern Beaches Hospital was doing an “extraordinarily good job”. He has also refused to reinstate the emergency department at Mona Vale.

While the government spent $600 million on the 488-bed Northern Beaches Hospital, Healthscope operates it. The corporation runs 43 hospitals across Australia. Critics say its 20-year contract should be ended because it has failed to fulfil its responsibilities to provide high-quality public health care.

Senior staff, including the chief of medicine, medical director and director of nursing, have resigned, elective surgery has been cancelled, and doctors have resorted to threatening strike action over staff and medical supply shortages.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association has criticised the “inappropriate privatisation of public health services” and called for the government to be held accountable.

The NSW Labor Party wants the government to accept the report’s recommendations and has accused Healthscope of prioritising private patients.

The Health Services Union has called for the Berejeklian government to take back the hospital administration. “Health takes up one-third of the state budget; there are plenty of people out there gouging the health system; let’s call that for what it is,” union secretary Gerard Hayes said.

The Save Mona Vale Hospital group said that “disregard” for the community is behind the privatisations.

The privatisation of the Northern Beaches Hospital happened despite the NSWNMA and local communities being successful in stopping plans to privatise regional hospitals at Maitland, Wyong, Shellharbour, Bowral and Goulburn.

Campaigns against the privatisations of public services, including health, transport, education and energy, are a critical part of broader community struggles against the major parties’ neoliberal policies.

They must continue, because the evidence shows that services and access deteriorate markedly when the service is run for profit.

We have had some success in defeating their plans. The federal government was recently forced by strong public opposition to drop its plan to privatise Aged Care Assessment Teams.

Green Left is committed to helping build the campaigns to boost funding for our health and other services, and place them back into public hands.

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