A brutal blow to the bush

The state government’s announcement that it will privatise five regional hospitals is a massive escalation of a policy that has little public support and is questioned by many economists.

Regional communities have a genuine need for new facilities to replace their aged public hospitals. Premier Mike Baird and his Liberal National Government have taken advantage of this to substantially expand their drive towards private health companies delivering our public health services at taxpayers’ expense.

Communities are lulled into a sense that they will get a wonderful new hospital and if they are a public patient they will still get free health care. Private, often multinational operators, promise the Government that they will deliver the care to patients at a cheaper cost. At the same time they promise their shareholders and owners that they will deliver a profit. Mike Baird and his government think that is a win-win, but we know the real losers are patients and staff.

The announcement to privatise these five regional hospitals came without prior warning, consultation or any semblance of public debate.

There needs to be a well informed public debate before we take the path to the Americanisation of our health system. And people should be allowed to vote on it.

The Premier has shown his true colours. During the last State election he ridiculed the NSWNMA TV ads that warned voters he planned to privatise public health services. He said they were a dishonest attempt to scare people. Well, who now is ‘the liar, liar with their pants on fire’ as the Association was described at the time?
And now his health minister, Jillian Skinner, has proclaimed that hospitals at Maitland, Wyong, Goulburn, Shellharbour and Bowral are to be handed over to the private sector.

Curiously, she has promised that if the private operators don’t want them she still has the money to redevelop them, but they won’t have the extra trimmings required of a private hospital.

Even economists say privatisation doesn’t work

For several decades most economists have supported privatisation and other key elements of neoliberalism that give free rein to market forces.

But even within this conservative profession and from some business figures there have been radical changes in thinking about privatisation.

One of the most striking about-turns came from the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims.

Despite having been an advocate of privatisation for the past three decades he now says privatisation has become “severely damaging” for the Australian economy.
University of Queensland economics professor John Quiggin says market reforms in the provision of human services like health have been “a string of failed experiments”.

The NSWNMA has joined with other public sector unions to add our voice to this growing critique with our participation in the People’s Inquiry into Privatisation (see pp 16-21).

The inquiry has set out to gauge the impact of privatisation and to further
a public conversation about alternatives by starting with the premise that public services are to serve people and their communities.

Patients and nurses will be hurt by these hospital sell offs
The most damning aspect of these new privatisations will be the impact on patient care and safety as we continue to stumble down the path towards an American model of healthcare.

Nurse-to-patient ratios will be under threat as no major private operator has ever agreed to them in NSW. There is a mountain of empirical evidence that show fewer nurses to patients will adversely impact on patient care and safety.

Nurses working conditions will also be under threat. The health minister has said only permanent staff will be offered a position if an equivalent job exists. Moves to undermine redundancy entitlements have been going on in parallel to the preparations to sell off the hospitals. With alternative employment scarce in regional areas this will be devastating for those for whom there is “no equivalent job in a privately run hospital”.

The gifting of five regional hospitals to the private sector is a real threat to the long term delivery of public health services in regional communities. We do not believe that it is in the best interests of our members or their communities and we will fight the privatisations tooth and nail.