Defending our public health system

privatisation2 privatisation1

The NSWNMA has produced a TV ad encouraging people to vote for the right to public healthcare. The Lamp talks to the two nurses who starred in the ads.

Britta Houser is an ER nurse from Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California. She has been a nurse for five years.

Britta says that in the United States patients often wait before they come into hospital, because of their anxiety about the cost, meaning that, generally, they come in a lot sicker.

“People come in with serious medical problems and the first question they ask is ‘how much is this going to cost?’ or ‘how is it covered?’ ‘where is the bill going to be sent?’ – those sort of questions; when they have very serious medical problems,” she said. “It’s a big burden and the fear of that expense is what keeps a lot of people from coming in [sooner]. Even just one ER visit can affect their life even though they are well when they leave.

She says working in this environment can be difficult for nurses.

“It’s a heart wrenching part of being a nurse. We’re trained to be calm in the face of pain and chaos. What we’re not equipped to deal with is to see the systems fail our patients.

“It places a lot of stress on nurses when you go home and think about patients who didn’t get all they needed or were discharged before they should have been.

“Nurses worry about those sort of folk. And we see them come back. In fact sometimes we are lucky if they come back and we don’t just read about them.”

Lyn Hopper is an ICU NUM at Manly Hospital on Sydney’s northern beaches. She says privatisation is a genuine threat to the public health system

“Queensland has a lot of public hospitals going private at the moment. There is a big one on the Sunshine Coast. Western Australia has a couple built and operating. New South Wales tried a while ago at Port Macquarie and failed miserably. Currently they are having a go with a new hospital at Frenchs Forest. They are building a private hospital with public beds leased out. They’ll give it back to the public sector in 20 years. The private sector will build and operate it.

“Private hospitals have a role to play in the complete package of a health system but there should be an absolute fundamental right to free healthcare.”

Patient care and conditions for nurses will be at risk, she believes, under a privatised health system.

“Nursing ratios are higher in the public sector. They have higher standards of allied health support. The cohort of patients is of a different mix – the elderly and the chronically ill who need extra care. They require input from social workers, occupational therapy, they need 24-hour medical in-site services and much higher nursing ratios.

“In the public sector there are standards that have to be adhered to that don’t have to be upheld in the private sector. At the new Northern Beaches hospital, public hospital nurses coming from Manly and Mona Vale will be made to work under the private hospitals award.

“I was devastated when I heard privatisation was going to occur at my hospital. The private system will not work for the public sector. At the end of the day the bottom line counts.”