Abbott looks at private-public hospital management

A Tony Abbott-led government will consider private companies running public hospitals if the Coalition is elected in the September federal election.

The Abbott model would build on current initiatives in the Liberal-governed states of Queensland and Western Australia.

Opposition heath spokesman Peter Dutton – a Queensland MP – told the Australian Financial Review (AFR) that the Coalition did not see public hospitals as immune in its drive to find savings in the health budget.

“Given the Labor government has racked up hundreds of billions of dollars of debt, we’re going to have to find more efficient ways of spending our health dollar,” Mr Dutton said.

In fact, Australia has one of the lowest levels of debt in the developed world.

Mr Dutton said “the Coalition, if we’re elected, would continue to work with state governments that have delivered, both under Liberal and Labor leadership, services through private hospitals and not-for-profits.

“If that means it’s more efficient to spend it through change management at public hospitals, then we shouldn’t be afraid of that debate.

“We’re keen to explore more efficient use of taxpayer dollars and that includes in the public hospital sector.”

In Queensland, the Mater Hospital complex in Brisbane is run under a public-private partnership scheme. The Queensland government is negotiating with private companies who are looking to manage a new $1.8 billion hospital being built on the Sunshine Coast.

Chief executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, Prue Power, told the AFR her organisation would be “very opposed” to wholesale privatisation of public hospitals.

“We think the public hospital system in Australia works well and does a lot of the more complex work that private hospitals don’t do,” she said.

Senator Richard Di Natale, the Greens health spokesman, said he was opposed to going down the path of the United States and its heavily privatised health system.

“I would have grave concerns about handing over control to private operators, whose primary motivation is to make a buck out of healthcare,” Senator Di Natale said.