Local nurses are speaking out against NSW Premier Mike Baird’s intentions to privatise the state’s hospitals. Just three days into his new position, Mr Baird suggested that privatisation posed a “fantastic opportunity” for the future of NSW healthcare.
As the current healthcare system sits, the private sector is already delivering a range of services in public hospitals, extending from cleaning to the public-private partnership to design, build, operate and maintain the new Northern Beaches Hospital.
“There are also arrangements under which some private hospitals provide particular public patient care,” explained Mr Baird.
But Brett Holmes, general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, states that the Northern Beaches Hospital is being fully privatised.
“They will get some funding from the government to provide public services, but it will be under the control of a private operator.”
The Nurses and Midwives’ Association remains opposed to healthcare privatisation, regardless of whether it is partial or full privatisation.
“Whenever you invite the private sector in, you’re inviting them in to make a profit, to deliver those services at the expense of public taxpayer funds,” Mr Holmes said.
Mr Holmes points to Port Macquarie Hospital, which the government was forced to buy back in 2005, as a good example of a privatised hospital providing public health services gone wrong.
“The public system eventually had to buy that contract back off the private company because it was not delivering the services at prices the public system could” he said.
Martin Gray, vice-president of the Randwick branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, believes that the government plans to run down public health services so that people will be obligated to go private.
“[Mr Baird] is trying to bring privatisation through the back door, through stealth measures,” he said.
“If he’s looking at the proposal like what they’ve got in Western Australia or the Port Macquarie Hospital, where [private companies] come in, build the hospital and provide some care for public patients in the private sector, it’s just a way of undermining the public sector and I think that’s what their plan is.”
Efficiency is a keyword that private companies use when they’re trying to make a profit, Mr Gray points out, and that means cutting corners in order to cut costs.
“I don’t see how they can actually make money from it, other than cutting wages, cutting conditions … and expecting staff to work longer hours for less pay,” he said.
In NSW and Victoria, there is an established 4:1 nurse to patient ratio. Mr Gray raised concerns over whether this condition would be abandoned under a privatised model, along with plans to only have non-clinical staff on the payrolls of private companies.
“Mike Baird’s proposal is for non-clinical staff, but if it does become clinical as well,” warned Mr Gray, “then our ratios that the unions have fought hard for, would probably be taken away from us.”