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Queensland backflip on Sunshine Coast Hospital

Ramsay Health Care’s complaint that the Queensland Government has “succumbed to vested interests” by back-flipping on its plans to privatise various public hospitals, including the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH), is just laughable, the Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) said today.

In response to Ramsay’s attack, the QNU is also renewing its call for the full disclosure of how Ramsay’s Noosa Private Hospital contract with the Queensland Government to treat public patients works.

The QNU was commenting on reported comments by Ramsay Health Care CEO Chris Rex in Saturday’s (7 December) Australian Financial Review, in which Mr Rex reportedly attacked the Queensland Government for the decision to keep the SCUH as a Queensland Health facility.

In May this year the QNU launched a statewide campaign against the privatisation of Queensland’s public hospital and community health system. The campaign included a $300,000 radio advertising campaign in May, community rallies and other events and a major petition.

Advocating for quality, safe patient care based on clinical need, not capacity to pay, is a key professional obligation of nurses and midwives.

QNU secretary Beth Mohle said for the CEO of a private company, with significant legal obligations to protect the interests of private investors/shareholders, to call hardworking Queensland Health nurses and midwives ‘vested interests’ exposes once and for all the foolishness of privatising public hospital and health services.

“The bitterness with which Mr Rex appears to be attacking the Queensland Government indicates just how desperate private operators like Ramsay are to get their hands on our world-class and cost-effective public hospital system. And he has the gall to call ordinary people and their workplace-community collectives like the QNU ‘vested interests’.

“The fact is, the Newman Government’s backflip on public hospital privatisation is the only logical position it could take. It is a victory for common sense and a victory for people power over corporate self-interest.

“The overwhelming evidence shows that privatised public hospitals are either more expensive to run, lead to reduced services or eventually require the introduction of patient fees as private operators cream a profit margin off the contract payment.

“The fact is, letting private operators run public hospitals and public hospital services leads to uncertainty and instability in service provision and sees governments often having to take facilities back to clean up private sector failures.

“Here in Australia, where the public hospital system is mostly government-owned and run, we spend less than 10 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on healthcare services. In the USA, where the system is mostly privately owned and operated, they spend over 17 percent of GDP and still can’t even provide equitable access to tens of millions of their citizens,” Ms Mohle said.

In response to Ramsay’s SCUH-decision attack, the QNU is also stepping up its call for the full disclosure of how Ramsay’s Noosa Private Hospital contract with the Queensland Government to treat public patients works.

In October this year, QNU Sunshine Coast delegates raised concerns about the way the deal between the Noosa Private Hospital, owned by Ramsay Health Care, and the state Government works. The QNU subsequently wrote to the Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg, seeking answers to a number of questions, but no answers have yet been received.

QNU secretary, Beth Mohle, said, in the interests of openness and transparency for taxpayer-provided funding, Mr Rex should disclose how many public admissions Noosa Private has accepted over the last 12 months.

“The Sunshine Coast QNU delegates advise me that complex public cases are actually referred on to Nambour Hospital. I am told public emergency presentations are also referred to Nambour Hospital.

“Is it also true that any public inpatients not able to be discharged after 30 days are transferred to nearby government hospitals? And that any inpatients who have multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are also transferred to the public system?

“What is the procedure for admitting a person who chooses to be a public patient and do they suffer any triaging or waiting time discrimination? In other words, can Mr Rex and his Noosa Private Hospital management confirm that all patients are admitted and treated based on clinical need and private patients are not prioritised for treatment or access?

“This secret Noosa Private deal with Ramsay Health Care arose out of the Liberals and Nationals last failed attempt, in the late 1990s, at selling off the Queensland people’s public hospital system.

We are entitled to know just how our government’s money is being spent at this hospital,” Ms Mohle said.