Health care in the United States is exorbitant and inefficient, yet in Australia the Liberals seem determined to adopt the American way with the privatisation of our public hospitals.
In Queensland and Western Australia, Liberal state governments are well down the path of privatising the management of public hospitals. New South Wales is following suit.
In WA, the Barnett Government has privatised, or is looking to privatise, services at the Peel Health Campus, the Fiona Stanley Hospital and the Midland Health Campus.
The full privatisation of the planned Sunshine Coast University Hospital in Queensland is on the table, as is the operation of the new Queensland Children’s Hospital. The public day oncology services at the Mater Public Hospital in Brisbane have already been privatised to form a new Mater Cancer Care Service.
In NSW the O’Farrell Government has invited expressions of interest from the private sector to design, construct, operate and maintain a public hospital on Sydney’s northern beaches.
The federal opposition’s Shadow Minister for Health, Peter Dutton, has put on the table that a Tony Abbott-led federal government would favour the involvement of the private sector in the running of our public hospitals.
Dutton told the Australian Financial Review that the federal Coalition did not see public hospitals as immune in its drive to find savings in its health budget.
He said “the Coalition, if we’re elected, would continue to work with state governments that have delivered … services through private hospitals and not-for-profits.
“If that means it’s more efficient to spend through change management at public hospitals, then we shouldn’t be afraid of that debate.”
General Secretary Brett Holmes says the NSWNMA is not afraid of that debate.
“We have run TV ads in New South Wales to alert the community of the Liberal Party’s intentions for our public hospitals. We will not allow privatisation to occur by stealth.
“Public health is funded by the public and we believe the best way to make sure those funds are used in an accountable way is through public service management, not a private company that would prioritise cost cutting and profit.
“The assertion that private companies deliver more efficient outcomes in health is contradicted strongly by overseas experience.
“Significant numbers of Americans do not have health cover because of its prohibitive cost and the US system is wasteful and economically exorbitant.
“While the Coalition strongly denies it wants to go down the US route, the handover of public management to private companies will produce similar outcomes in the long term.”
The role of not-for-profit health providers is a model favoured by Liberal governments in Australia. Yet the US experience shows that not-for-profit hospitals are in fact just as profit seeking as commercially run hospitals.
Time magazine reported that when McKinsey Consulting, aided by a Bank of America survey, pulled together all hospital financial reports it found that “the 2900 non-profit hospitals across the country, which are exempt from income taxes, actually end up averaging higher operating profit margins than the 1000 for-profit hospitals, after the for-profits’ income tax obligations are deducted. In health care being non-profit produces more profit.”
Labor says it will never support attempts to privatise public hospitals. It says “Australians deserve quality health care regardless of their income level – without flourishing public hospitals this is a goal we cannot achieve.”
State Liberal governments in Queensland, Western Australia and now New South Wales have taken the path of privatisating public health services including the building and operating of new public hospitals. On several occasions the federal Liberal spokesperson for health Peter Dutton has indicated that a federal Coalition government would build on this record.
The Greens are committed to keeping public hospitals in public hands, including the administration and provision of essential health services. The Greens would oppose any move to privatise public health services and, in government, would scrap any existing privatisation undertaking.
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