Chronicle of a fiasco foretold

Normally it takes a bit of time before the flaws and inadequacies in service provision from a privatised public service become obvious but at the Northern Beaches Hospital it has been on show from the beginning.

The privatisation of the Northern Beaches Hospital was undertaken without any serious public debate. The tendering process was shrouded in secrecy. The public was lied to about what it would cost. Now the hospital has opened in a state of chaos due to completely inadequate planning and preparation.

This is largely due to a failure to engage with staff and a management that lacks experience in running public hospitals. It was arrogant to think  that private corporations would do a better job of running a public hospital.

The government responsible for this debacle deserves to be made accountable.  

The opening six weeks for the hospital was a shambles as we detail in this edition of The Lamp and as was heavily reported in the media. The Government and Healthscope were obviously embarrassed but tried their best to spin it as “normal teething problems”, despite the large number of problems exposed.

Nurses, midwives and other health staff have done their very best to deliver a service to their community against almost impossible odds. Privatisation was the wrong decision and we said so loud and clear from the beginning. The Baird/Berijiklian Government has locked in this privatisation for the next 20 years at least. Unwinding this would cost a lot of money and we have to make sure this mistake is not repeated.

Healthscope needs to deliver on its contract and meet its obligations to deliver appropriate staffing and maintain the entitlements of the transferred nurses. It needs to negotiate nurse-to-patient ratios in the next round of bargaining.

I am advised that Healthscope at Northern Beaches is currently pulling out all stops to recruit new staff and in the interim is relying on more than a hundred agency RNs per day to fill the rosters.

Interestingly, many are travelling from Western Sydney and pass public hospitals like Nepean, Blacktown, and Westmead – all of whom swear on a bible they can’t find RNs to fill their vacancies and that agencies can’t help them. Northern Beaches Healthscope is obviously more successful than our public hospitals when it comes to the supply of agency RNs!

Since it was elected to office in 2011 this NSW Liberal-National government has made the privatisation and outsourcing of public services, including health, its signature policy.

Electricity, ports, housing, land and property information, recreation facilities, museums and court operations are just a small sample of the many services that have been subject to its sweeping privatisation program.

And, of course, health services have not been exempt. On top of the Northern Beaches Hospital there was the privatisation of disability services and the attempt to privatise five regional hospitals.

The privatisation of public hospitals and health services was undertaken without any consultation or discussion with the community about what it wanted.

The NSW public was denied the facts they needed to make an informed choice on this issue at the last state election. Very soon they will have the opportunity to rectify that, better armed with the facts, including the facts on the ground.

The Labor leader Michael Daley has pledged that if his party is elected to government: “There will be no privatisation of NSW hospitals, water, electricity or public transport services”.

Nurses and midwives, along with the community, will have a clear choice on this and other critical issues for public health when the NSW state election rolls around this March.