A cautionary tale for metro members

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By Judith Kiejda, Acting General Secretary

Late last year the state government unveiled plans to privatise five regional NSW hospitals. Now, with the announced privatisation of the St George Hospital renal dialysis services, we know they are targeting our metropolitan public health services as well.

The renal dialysis service at St George Hospital is to be gifted to a private operator under a business plan drawn up without any consultation with nurses.

“Up to 11.85 full time registered and or enrolled nurses” are to be handed over to a private operator according to correspondence sent to NSWNMA by the hospital.

The privatisation is the result of a South Eastern Sydney Local Health District feasibility study carried out in secret during 2016.

The study says growing demand for renal services has “placed significant pressure” on the current number of haemodialysis chairs at the hospital.

However there is no provision for additional renal dialysis capacity in the current major redevelopment of the hospital.

In this modus operandi we see the outlines of the government’s strategy to privatise metro services by stealth. Any new service or hospital where there is a need for capital works development – like St George – gives the government an opportunity to privatise public health services.

If the government is only stumping up sufficient funds for building works and not for the operational requirements of health services the LHDs are placed between a rock and a hard place and forced down the route of giving those services to the private sector to operate.

Services like renal dialysis, rehab and maternity services are highly lucrative targets for private corporations. There are already lots of private maternity and rehab services. Now, as we see at St George, renal dialysis is ripe for privatisation.

Metro hospitals face privatisation by stealth

It would be very difficult politically for the government to openly privatise major Sydney tertiary hospitals in the same way that they have with regional hospitals. 

But tertiary hospitals like St George, Prince of Wales and Sutherland all have large capital works programs in play and this gives the government the opportunity to accelerate their agenda of privatising public health.

This political tactic is a variation on the great money trick played by the federal government with the state governments. If you cut their funding for health – as they have on a massive scale – then you are forcing them to slash their health budgets. This trickles down to the level occupied by nurses and midwives: with less services, less staff, less resources, more privatisations and more outsourcing. 

If you join all the dots: the cuts to funding, the cuts to Medicare, the privatisation of regional hospitals and the outsourcing of metro health services it is not hard to work out there is a very comprehensive agenda by state and federal Coalition governments to move people from a public health system for everybody to one where user pays.

This is an agenda that everyone should stand up and fight against. Which comes to the next element of this strategy – the crushing of resistance to it. The Association has been made aware of several instances where nurses that have stood up and spoken out against privatisation have been put under immense pressure by their management.

This is unacceptable. Nurses and midwives have a democratic right to express their opinion on any issue they like. And they have an obligation under their registration to advocate for their patients in their care.

Management has no right to put them in a difficult situation if they speak out against privatisation. It is imperative that we all stand up for a health system that is accessible to all and free at the point of service. This union will back any nurse or midwife to the hilt if they do so.