A COMPANY building a health hub for Goulburn knew five months ago the State Government wanted to partially privatise the city’s Base Hospital.
Back then, Health Infrastructure indirectly contacted Goulburn Health Hub Unit Trust, sounding out interest in lodging a submission if the move went ahead. It was reportedly one of nine entities.
Trust representative Sophie Ashton confirmed the contact on Friday. The Trust will partner a major financier/developer and a well established not-for-profit health care provider to lodge an expression of interest. She cannot disclose their names at this stage.
In a controversial step, the State Government announced on Thursday it would call for interest in public-private partnerships in Goulburn, Wyong, Maitland and Shellharbour Hospitals.
The backlash against Goulburn MP Pru Goward has been swift on social media, following her defence of the move.
Ms Ashton says while she appreciates job concerns, health is set to grow at five per cent annually. She predicts more positions, not less, a wider range of services and greater ability to attract specialists.
Her Trust has had previous contact with the financier. When the privatisation proposal emerged, it re-established contact with the Hub developers and the health care provider.
The financier/developer is reportedly prepared to invest $400 million to $500m in the sector.
“They see this as an opportunity to invest in health and they perceive Goulburn as well located and affordable,” Ms Ashton said.
“There are a lot of good reasons to build a health precinct here.”
The provider will lodge a submission to the State Government by the October 14 closing date.
It will propose construction of a hospital at the health hub in Ross St, Bradfordville. It will also include rehabilitation, aged care and ancillary services or “the full offering one expects,” Ms Ashton says.
The hub already has council approval for many of these elements. The first stage, comprising allied health, dental practice, cafe, doctors’ rooms, rehabilitation, hydrotherapy and 94 car parks will be completed in three to four months.
The EoI states the government will consider a greenfield or existing site. This is despite NSW Health spending $600,000 on backing studies and architect drawings completed for the $120 million first stage on the current location.
Ms Ashton says it’s not fruitless as it reveals valuable information. NSW Health agrees.
“The amount of money spent so far will be a pittance compared to what they’ll spend on the existing site long-term,” Ms Ashton said.
“They have to look 20 to 50 years down the track and future health needs.”
Nevertheless, she said health authorities told them “plan A” was to consider other offers on the table. Redevelopment of the existing location is “plan B” but they’ll revisit it if nothing satisfactory emerges.
‘Good money after bad’
Both she and father Wal argue development of the Goldsmith St site is wasted money, that the site is landlocked and won’t provide for future health services or immediate parking needs.
“People want something that is nice and new and elevating,” Mr Ashton said.
“It’s about creating a product that people will use. The real kicker is that we can pull people from elsewhere and we have 35 hectares to expand.”
Ms Ashton believed Health Infrastructure approached nine providers about the same time. Once convinced there was an appetite for investment, NSW Health called public expressions of interest.
She understands three or four are interested in Goulburn but the Hub’s is the only greenfield proposal.
She’s been told if Health went down the public-private partnership track, a proposal would be followed through in a year.
“It’s very serendipitous,” Ms Ashton said of the EoI.
‘We went into this three years ago without any idea this would happen. We only knew there was a need for improved health services in Goulburn. It has come about because of the increased concerns about Goulburn Hospital.”
It’s very serendipitous...We went into this three years ago without any idea this would happen.
She said the Hub would proceed even if the EoI failed.
The hospital EoI
Health Infrastructure called the EoI on Goulburn Base Hospital because the redevelopment exceeded $100m.
Asked why it considered a greenfield site, given the money already spent on investigations of the existing location, a Southern NSW Local Health District spokesman said investigations found there was sufficient space on the current site for a new acute hospital building alongside some key existing infrastructure.
“Any proposal identified through this process will be considered as part of the overall evaluation, which will focus on delivering high quality health services and value for money,” he said.
The intent is to seek interest from non-government hospital operators for a partnership to implement the services identified in the government’s funding commitment.
“A partnership approach, combining capital and expertise, might mean we can offer more complex services locally so that patients no longer have to travel out of area to access services, potentially extending the scope beyond that identified in stage one,” he said.
All public patients would continue to be treated in the same way.