We will not allow public hospitals to be privatised by stealth

Editorialmar2012September 2013

The privatisation of public hospital services is on the political agenda and we have made an intervention with a TV ad leading up to the federal election to ensure the public are aware of it.

“There is a lesson here for both the major parties that we will not sit on our hands and allow the privatisation of public health system services through the back door.”

As always our advertisement asks people to vote for the issue not the party. But I won’t hide from the fact that we are convinced that the Liberal National Coalition has this issue on its agenda, public policy or not. It is up to individuals how they vote but we want them to be informed about an important issue that has serious consequences for patients, nurses and midwives.

Both major political parties would probably prefer that it flew under the radar. We are not going to let that happen. On our watch privatisation will not happen by stealth.

We have been accused of running this ad merely on the basis of a quote by Peter Dutton, the Coalition’s federal health spokesperson and alternative Minister for Health.

That is not true. Our concerns about the privatisation of public hospitals are not theoretical. Privatisation is already the very clear agenda of the Liberal National parties in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. Mr Dutton has indicated he too sees a role for private operators in the running of our public hospitals. That is not just our interpretation of his statements. It is also an interpretation shared by conservative business media such as the Australian Financial Review and the Business Review Weekly.

Mr Dutton also says the Liberal Party welcomes a debate on this issue. Well, we have joined that debate, even if our contribution may not please him, sections of the media, or some of our members who cannot believe any political party would have such an agenda.

Our fear is that opening up the running of public hospitals to the private sector will lead to profits coming before patients.

It is totally reasonable for us to think that. If there is a combination of conservative governments at the state and federal level, this will open the door to private operators to seize control of the billions of dollars in public money that is made available to maintain our public health system.

The facts on the ground reinforce that belief.

In recent months we have reported in The Lamp on the O’Farrell Government’s plans to privatise the new Northern Beaches hospital, as well as the privatisation agendas of the Queensland and Western Australian governments. We now know this is no one off event in NSW, with the announcement by the Minister for Mental Health and Lifestyles, Kevin Humphries, that two pilot mental health services would be put out to tender to private companies and the non government sector to deliver mental health, physical health and drug and alcohol support in their local communities at a cost of $1.8 million.

So, on the one hand, we have our state government starving our community health services of resources, and instead offering the money to private companies or NGOs to deliver the core business of our community health services.

In this edition of The Lamp (page 30) Donna Smith tells us what the shocking consequences can be for patients in the United States when profits come before patient care. It is a cautionary tale that we must be aware of and which we must share with the public.

At our Annual Conference she noted how privatisation usually occurs in a gradual way. There is plenty of evidence of that modus operandi in the way public hospital services in Australia are currently being offered to private operators.

We call it as we see it. There is a lesson here for both the major parties that we will not sit on our hands and allow the privatisation of public health system services through the back door. The new Northern Beaches hospital tells us that if governments think the community is disengaged, they will simply make the announcements as a fait accompli and no one will care. We do and so do our members.