What will happen to the future of Goulburn’s health services?
That was the question on everyone’s lips at Politics in the Pub in Goulburn on Monday night.
The panel consisted of MP and Assistant Minister for Health Pru Goward, Greens member and Goulburn Mulwaree councillor Leah Ferrara, Health Services Union (HSU) organiser Peter Mason, Nurses and Midwives Association representative Mary Walker and local Bradfordville Health Hub owner Wal Ashton.
The night starts off late as the eager crowd wait on MP Pru Goward. Upon arrival she describes the nature of the $120 million put to the Goulburn Base Hospital. She continued to identify that this was where the idea for the pubic-private partnership in Goulburn was conceived. “[It’s a] wonderful opportunity for us to be a regional health centre,” she said. “Standards of the hospital are the same standards as every other hospital in NSW. I think it gives us the best of both worlds. If [the] private provider that can’t provide the services, the expression of interest (EOI) won't go ahead. But if there is such a provider, it would be a very good deal for Goulburn. ”
Newest Goulburn Mulwaree councillor Leah Ferrara proves that experience has nothing to do with fiery political speech. “I speak for my community and my community is not happy and very confused. I don’t agree with privatisation because as soon as that happens health comes second and profit comes first. Health is a right not a privilege.”
Mary Walker from the NSWNMA clarifies that she finds nothing wrong with private hospitals but says a cost will come to nurses and midwives if the private sector takes control. She explains that there will be a negative effect on the community if the skill mix and qualifications are not up to standard. There’s a “profit to shareholders” she says, and this might result in a “conflict of interest”.
Spirited and confident Peter Mason from the HSU is “totally against” privitisation. He pronounced that the HSU and other health unions would stand “side by side” with the community”.
“Shame that they had to give $120 million then get it matched by a private company and run it. The service to this community will be downgraded and that’s a shame.” Mr Mason revealed the General Secretary for the HSU heard the announcement on the radio. The ministry responded by offering to send the media release. “The consultation was very minimal. That's how much they respect us as your representatives.”
Wal Ashton opens his speech to accommodate to the powerful labor cohort in the room by quoting Jack Lang: “Back self-interest, at least you know it's trying.”
“What we want is a hospital in Goulburn and it doesn't really matter who runs it. Goulburn Base doesn't have a great reputation,” he said. The crowd start booing, one man tells him to get off the stage. Mr Ashton is unfazed and continues. “Let's be honest. I'm not saying it’s a bad hospital but perception is everything. Unless we have people coming to Goulburn because we have a great product we are going to struggle with health. [The] hospital pays $3 million a year to get doctors in and no-one stays – we want doctors to stay. Everyone's a winner or everyone's a loser I promise you that.”
Its question time and NSWNMA member Jane Cotter asks MP Goward if the government will protect the nurses if there is a private partnership.
GOWARD: Look I really don't know. I think it's going to be up to the negotiations. My understanding is that it's the same outcomes as at all the public hospitals. The contract is performance orientated.
COTTER: Now we can ring our union, close beds. In the private system we can’t do that.
GOWARD: Why couldn’t you do that?
COTTER: Because it’s not in the award for the private hospital.
GOWARD: Isn’t that what we have to negotiate?
Ms Walker jumps in and rebuts Mr Ashton’s earlier comment. “I wonder where Wal got his information on the Goulburn Base Hospital’s bad reputation? If you're going to criticise our hospital please base it on evidence not just rumour.”
WAL: It wasn’t out of malice it was a statement. It's really difficult to sell an 1870’s hospital. It is very easy to look in the air but when you go to a hospital you want all the bells and whistles.
Daughter Sophie Aston takes over her father’s seat on the panel. Ms Cotter and MP Goward discuss where oncology will go. “I agree. I think that it’s a very misjudged decision,” MP Goward said. “Its not a done deal until I stop singing.” Ms Ashton explains the health hub was bringing services into Goulburn and said it was “difficult to attract specialist and surgeons to Goulburn.”
Crowd member Bob Stephens says that he doesn’t understand why the Ashton’s are on the panel and calls MP Goward a liar.
STEPHENS: I didn’t come here to listen to Ms Goward talk about why the public servants did not tell her what was going on, I don’t expect the Assistant Minister for Health –
GOWARD: So you think I’m lying Bob?
STEPHENS: I do think you’re lying. All I want to hear from our member is that she’s backing keeping Bourke St open until a new base hospital is available with those services, anything less than that and you’re taking away from us.
GOWARD: The answer Bob is yes.
“I’m a great believer in transparency. Yes it would be foolish not to present the analysis so the people of Goulburn had confidence,” MP Goward says in response to a question from the crowd about whether information in the EOI (which has now closed) will be released to the community.
As MP Goward is leaving there is a tense exchange between Labor Party member Ursula Stephens about sacking the local health board. “You’d be pleased to know that the applications for renewal are coming up shortly,” MP Goward says to Ms Stephens, walking out.
Sophie and Wal Ashton leave the panel.
Mr Mason challenges Pru and her commitment to keeping the Bourke St Health Service open. “I think it’s an outright shame that this government plays around with any patient, especially in palliative care,” he said. ‘I wouldn’t take what Pru says as factual, she asked me a question about how many hospitals are in her state. If you don’t stand up for something you’ll fall for anything - the Liberal government thinks you’ll fall for anything.”
Keeping with the trend of inspirational closing speeches, Cr Ferrara says Bourke St can’t close and will stand by the community. “Pru can sing all she wants but my voice will be heard as well.”
The forum ends, the crowd clears and some may argue that night resulted in more questions than answers.