March 1 - 7, 2020: Issue 440


Hospital Inquiry Report Released: Recommends Looking after the people – not the profiteers + ceasing demolition of MVH + returning an Emergency Department to Mona Vale Hospital

An Upper House committee has released its report on the Northern Beaches Hospital on Thursday 27th of February this week. The inquiry was established in June 2019 after the hospital experienced serious problems upon opening in October 2018. The hospital is operated by Healthscope Ltd under a public private partnership with NSW Health.

'The citizens of New South Wales have a strong public health system. It is their public health system. They know it, are proud of it and do not want it weakened or undermined in any way. It has been inherited from the hard work of previous generations and there is an unequivocal desire to pass it on to the next, as good as it was received, if not better. At the very heart of it are our public hospitals,' said the Committee Chair, Mr Greg Donnelly MLC.

'Sixteen months since the hospital opened, it is now achieving performance standards and results that the committee hopes and expects will continue, and be improved upon into the future. The residents of the Northern Beaches deserve no less. While there are 'big picture' lessons flowing from the inquiry, it was always about the health and medical care needs of the Northern Beaches community, and our recommendations are squarely focused to that end.'

The report, Operation and management of the Northern Beaches Hospital, lists 23 Recommendations. Of these 6 relate to Mona Vale Hospital and include a Recommendation that the NSW Government take immediate steps to engage directly with Northern Beaches state Members of Parliament, community leaders and other stakeholders to investigate the ways and means to restore a public level 3 emergency department to the Mona Vale Hospital as soon as possible. 

The report recommends NSW Health undertake an audit on the complete range of medical and health services on the Mona Vale Hospital site to confirm that what is currently available accords precisely with what has been produced in both written and electronic form and is in the public domain. Further, that information regarding the services be continuously updated as the services develop and evolve.

Also listed is that the NSW Government ensure that the land on which the Mona Vale and Manly Hospitals sit always remain in public hands for health and medical related activities, and that 99 year or other similar long term leasing arrangements not be entered into for the sites.

Importantly to those now watching the still young by hospital buildings elsewhere being destroyed, the report recommends that the NSW Government cease demolition of the Mona Vale Hospital main building after asbestos removal is complete and retain this public asset for future use. Further, that NSW Health and the North Sydney Local Health District, on an ongoing basis, positively consider opportunities to expand both the range and availability of medical and health services that are offered at the Mona Vale Hospital. 

And that the Northern Sydney Local Health District monitor over time the effectiveness of both the Northern Beaches Hospital and the Mona Vale Hospital in meeting the health needs of the communities they serve, including for emergency care. Further, that it establish a mechanism, beyond the current limited Bureau of Health Information data published quarterly, for ongoing reporting to communities, for the purposes of transparency, engagement and building trust.

Also among the Recommendations is that Healthscope ensure that appropriate signage is erected at the Northern Beaches Hospital's points of admission which notifies patients of their right to treatment as a public patient at no cost, and that NSW Health better support non acute care and address the need for outpatient services at the Northern Beaches Hospital by reinstating previously available public specialist clinics, with priority given to cardiology and neurology, by enhancing paediatric outpatient services, by addressing the long existing gaps in gastroenterology, ophthalmology and orthopaedic outpatient services  and ensuring outpatient services for public patients are bulk billed.

The NSW Health Minister, The Hon. Brad Hazzard told the ABC, the same day the report was released, that he does not agree with the findings of the inquiry and that the Northern Beaches Hospital was doing an "extraordinarily good job".

"There's no intention to build any other Public-Private Partnership," Mr Hazzard said. "I'm utterly satisfied that that hospital is doing a first-class job."

Issues at the hospital have received widespread media attention in the weeks after its opening, which the NSW Health Minister dismissed as "teething problems".

Reports persisted however, including one which showed  a cancer patient had the wrong side of his bowel removed at the hospital and another was left to die after a ‘do not resuscitate’ order was wrongly attached to his file.

According to patients who have recently attended the NBH, the failures are still happening. This is from another social media page, posted this week.:

'Mistreated at NBH nearly lost MY foot. Since 27 Dec. 2019 have spent my days on my couch. 3 months minimum still to go all from being mistreated even though the ambulance expressed I needed to be treated immediately due to the nature of my injury. So chaotic, young inexperienced staff, nobody knows where anything is and the staff have no interest in your welfare. I mentioned that due to my injury I should have been seen immediately all I got from the staff “we don’t have time”. It’s like being treated in a third world country.

MONA VALE HOSPITAL MUST REMAIN if I had been given the option to receive treatment at Mona Vale hospital I would not have suffered the worry and pain that I am currently in the middle of."

The NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay has urged the Government to rule out further privatisations.

"The inquiry has found there has been a two-tiered health system in the Northern Beaches," Ms McKay said. "I urge the Premier today to listen to the recommendations of this inquiry, rule out the further privatisations of hospitals in New South Wales and do it."

“Privatisation of public hospitals doesn’t work, didn’t work and won’t work. Keep our public hospitals in public hands.”

However, in the Canberra Times the NSW Health Minister also ruled out upgrading Mona Vale Hospital, signalling the incumbents intent to continue to pursue installing private operators on the public land of the Mona Vale Hospital site.

"I'm extremely satisfied the hospital is doing an extraordinary job for the community ... the inquiry was put together by the Labor Party and it was done for purely political steps," Mr Hazzard said.

The Inquiry into NBH committee did have NSW coalition members overseeing the Inquiry and this committee have unanimously agreed with the Report’s findings. 

Richard West AM, a retired Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Professor of Surgery and President of the Palm Beach-Whale Beach Association, has called for ensuring public and private patients received the same treatment at the NBH since the facility opened. The Palm Beach-Whale Beach Association tabled a submission to the Inquiry, Prof. West also attended one of the Hearings, where he condemned the lack of transparency over availability of services and the fact that some services at the NBH are available to private patients only. 

"They have a public/private model run by Healthscope," he said. "This model has failed in the past and is failing again at the NBH."

Professor West said the NSW government should revoke Healthscope's role, upgrade the facility to "Level Six", ensure public and private patients can access equal treatment and re-upgrade Mona Vale Hospital.

Late this week Prof. West AM issued the following:

Statement from Professor Richard West AM
President of the Palm Beach-Whale Beach Association

"This is a damning report, with added significance that those overseeing the Inquiry unanimously agree with the report’s findings including the members from the Liberal and Country parties in government.

The report states should be no more public-private partnerships the government has confirmed  this which indicates that the model has failed – why is it being allowed to continued on the Northern Beaches?

The NSW Minister for Health is trying to make a response that is political – It is not – and he is playing with people’s lives when he approaches the findings stated from a political standpoint.

He and the NSW Government need to take this report Seriously and act on it.

The only solution is for the government to step in and take over the running of the Northern Beaches Hospital and ensure that all services are available to all patients, both public and private.

Mona Vale Hospitals’ Acute facility needs to be upgraded to a Level 3 Emergency Department urgently.’’

The President of the PBWBA, Professor West AM, was seeking an urgent meeting with the MP for Pittwater, The Hon. Rob Stokes on Friday.

Recent storms have shown a problem of access to the private-public hospital persists along Wakehurst Parkway and although the community has expressed a wish to not have the thoroughfare widened, flooding and closure needs to be addressed. During the most recent flooding event the main access road for Pittwater residents was closed for days, while the recommended alternatives also experienced downed trees, traffic light signal failures lengthening the time between getting to the hospital, while storm systems ruled out helicopter transfers, should they have been required. 

In August 2017 the Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes, Member for Wakehurst Brad Hazzard and Member for Davidson Jonathan O’Dea announced up to $5 million to support the introduction of flood mitigation measures along Wakehurst Parkway. The funding was directed to the council installed by the state government.

The Save Mona Vale Hospital chairman Parry Thomas said this week the group welcomed the report and thanked committee members for their work, which recognised and supported the community’s campaigning over many years. 

“The inquiry confirms what the community has been saying for the last 20 years – that we must retain the emergency department at Mona Vale Hospital,” Mr Thomas said.

“It’s no surprise that the committee has called for the NSW government to immediately take action to reopen the emergency department at Mona Vale.

“And its recommendation to halt the demolition of the hospital’s main building as soon as the asbestos has been removed is only common sense.

“The root of the problem at Mona Vale and Northern Beaches Hospitals has been the disregard for the community and privatisation of our local hospital system – with the complete closure of Manly Hospital and loss of emergency and other acute services at Mona Vale. 

“The inquiry has implicitly recognised that Northern Beaches Hospital is closer to the people of Bondi than it is to Pittwater.   

“We look forward to the return of emergency services to the main hospital building at Mona Vale as soon as possible.”

Added emphasis on the 'waste not, want not' approach has also been underlined this week. The threat of a corona virus pandemic should provide extra impetus to reopen Mona Vale Hospital’s emergency ward following the release this week of a parliamentary report calling for its reinstatement.  

Emergency doctors yesterday warned that Australia’s hospital emergency departments operate either at or over capacity, so they would struggle to cope if a corona virus pandemic eventuates here.

Save Mona Vale Hospital chairman Parry Thomas said the risk of a pandemic increased the urgency to reopen Mona Vale’s emergency department. 

Mr Thomas said Sydney no longer has an infectious diseases hospital so that the government now has a unique opportunity to set up an isolation unit at Mona Vale.

“It’s very lucky they haven’t pulled it down,” Mr Thomas told Pittwater Online News

“It’s a logical step as we have an empty hospital – it wouldn’t take a huge amount of time, money or effort to bring it back on line as an acute hospital. 

“It’s a big opportunity and the government should run with it as fast as they can because if they move now they have a chance to be ready. 

“If China can build two hospitals in two weeks from scratch, surely we can bring Mona Vale back on line in time to provide acute beds in a potential pandemic.”

Mr Thomas echoed Prof. West's comment that the report was notable for its unanimous support by the inquiry committee, including two Nationals and a Liberal MLC.

“It has vindicated our community campaign, with the Save Mona Vale Hospital evidence treated with respect and given weight,” Mr Thomas said. 

“Most of our recommendations were accepted by the committee and there was no dissenting report from the Coalition members. 

“(NSW Health Minister) Brad Hazzard’s dismissal of the report flies in the face of evidence given by doctors, nurses, paramedics and other members of the community. 

“The NSW Upper House is a chamber of Parliament, elected by the people of NSW, and he should not take its findings lightly.”  

The document, Final Report No. 52 - Operation and management of the Northern Beaches Hospital, may be downloaded here.