NSW Upper House to hold Inquiry into Northern Beaches Hospital
The Northern Beaches Hospital will be scrutinised by a NSW parliamentary committee, with the power to subpoena past and present staff. On Thursday, June 6th, Labor Shadow Health Minister Walter Secord tabled a Motion which read;
1.That Portfolio Committee No. 2 – Health inquire into and report on the operation and management of the Northern Beaches Hospital, and in particular:
(a)the contract and other arrangements establishing the hospital;
(b)changes to the contract and other arrangements since the opening of the hospital;
(c)ongoing arrangements for the operation and maintenance of the hospital;
(d)standards of service provision and care at the hospital;
(e)staffing arrangements and staffing changes at the hospital;
(f)the impact of the hospital on surrounding communities and health facilities, particularly Mona Vale Hospital, Manly Hospital and Royal North Shore Hospital;
(g)the merits of public private partnership arrangements for the provision of health care; and
(h)any other related matter.
2.That the committee report by the first sitting day in 2020.
Labor Shadow Health Minister Walter Secord said he pushed for the parliamentary inquiry because the Auditor-General cannot examine the performance or operations of the $600 million hospital as it is a public-private partnership. On May 8th he tabled the Public Finance and Audit Amendment (Northern Beaches Hospital) Bill 2019 - Long Title: An Act to amend the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983 to authorise the Auditor-General to conduct performance audits of the Northern Beaches Hospital - which is also due for its second Debate.
The 488-bed hospital opened in late-October last year but from day one has been marred by reports of shortages of essential drugs and medical equipment, understaffing and industrial disputes. Anaesthetists threatened to cancel elective surgery over concerns for patient and staff safety within hours of the hospital's opening.
The day after the official ribbon-cutting, the hospital's chief executive Deborah Latta resigned. The departure of the hospital's medical director followed soon after.
Labor's health spokesman Walt Secord said the upper house committee would "help lift the cloak of secrecy surrounding the private-public partnership (PPP)”.
“The community spends hundreds of millions of dollars on the hospital and the community is entitled to know about the failures of the scandal-plagued Northern Beaches Hospital and why it is not performing," he said in a statement.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard has said the establishment of the inquiry was unfair "to the staff who are working hard for patients" and a "distraction which will impact on staff morale".
“There have been challenges, as there always are, in getting a brand new hospital up and running. Whilst there are very positive outcomes for patients every day, these challenges will continue to some degree - as happens with all new hospitals," he said.
“This is a cynical exercise by a Labor Party that never delivered any new health facilities for northern beaches residents and now, is focusing on being wreckers, not builders." Mr. Hazzard said
Mr Secord said community activists on the northern beaches had been "tireless" in their efforts to highlight problems at the hospital.
“This is a victory in the fight for openness and transparency within the Berejiklian government," he said.
“The NSW parliamentary committee inquiry into the Northern Beaches Hospital will have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.”
The Berejiklian government provided $600 million to build the hospital and is expected to provide a further $2.14 billion to the private operators over the life of the contract which is until 2038.
Private operator Healthscope initially ran the hospital but earlier this year the company agreed to a $4.4 billion takeover by Canadian investment firm Brookfield.
The inquiry will hear evidence from community groups, past and present hospital staff, medical bodies, unions, taxation experts and the corporations involved in the PPP.
It will look into the operation and maintenance of the hospital, standards of care, staffing arrangements and staff turnover. It will also investigate, as stated above, the "merits of public-private partnership arrangements for the provision of health care".
The inquiry, chaired by Labor's Greg Donnelly, states in its parameters that it will also investigate the impact of the hospital on nearby Mona Vale, Manly, and Royal North Shore hospitals.
The Save Mona Vale Hospital Committee congratulates Walt Secord, The Shadow Minister for Health, for successfully moving a motion for a wide-ranging enquiry into the privatised Northern Beaches Hospital.
“The Northern Beaches Hospital is neither accountable nor transparent, “ said Parry Thomas, Save Mona Vale Hospital Chair. “The NSW Government has replaced two public hospitals with a hospital that has a two tier system that favours private patients and has been beset with problems since it opened.”
Healthscope, whose shareholders have voted for the acquisition by Brookfield, runs the hospital. “Brookfield is a tax dodging outfit based in the Cayman Islands,” said Mr Thomas. The NSW Government has invested $600m into the new hospital.
“The time and distance for upper Northern Beaches residents to travel to the Northern Beaches Hospital is too great and the Wakehurst Parkway is often closed due to flooding, fallen trees or bushfires,” said Mr Thomas.
“It is 28 km for Palm Beach residents to travel to the Northern Beaches Hospital – that’s the same distance as Bondi to French’s Forest. Our population is increasing, but the Northern Beaches Hospital has a greater catchment than Manly and Mona Vale Hospitals combined.“
The Save Mona Vale Hospital Committee hopes enquiry will not only scrutinise the Northern Beaches Hospital, but lead to Mona Vale Hospital re-opening as a Level 3 acute care hospital with services such as Emergency, surgery and maternity, that supports the new Northern Beaches Hospital.
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