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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 808

Ms JACKSON (9:18 PM) —There are few things more important to communities than healthcare services, especially their local hospital. The north-eastern suburbs of Perth and surrounding wheat belt have been well served by Swan District Hospital for many, many years. Swan District Hospital has been under enormous pressure over the last decade, primarily because of the rapid growth in population and the consequent demand on hospital services.

In 2003-04, a comprehensive review was undertaken of the future health system needs of Western Australians by the Health Reform Committee. The report, known as the Reid report, recommended that Swan District Hospital be expanded to at least a 300-bed major general hospital to improve access to hospital care in high-growth metropolitan areas and to reduce demand on tertiary hospitals. Establishing large general hospitals in outer metropolitan areas with appropriate infrastructure, emergency departments, diagnostic facilities and theatres staffed by appropriately skilled clinicians would provide a comprehensive range of core clinical services where people live.

In November 2005, following the Reid report, the then state Labor government announced its intention to build a new 326-bed hospital in Midland at a cost of $182.7 million to replace Swan District Hospital. It was expected to be completed by 2011. The community and I celebrated the announcement of the proposed new Midland Health Campus. During 2006 the planning for the site commenced. In January 2007, the site’s structure plan was approved by the Midland Redevelopment Authority and the master-planning process commenced in February 2007. There was considerable consultation undertaken with the community as well as with clinicians and staff. I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural community consultation in October 2007. Regular newsletters were provided to staff in the community to keep them informed about the progress of the Midland Health Campus.

Following the 2008 state election, the new Liberal-National government assured the local community they were committed to the new Midland Health Campus. Despite this assurance, I became increasingly concerned about the lack of progress and the constant pushing back of the time frame for completion of the new facility. The Midland Health Campus is a vital piece of health infrastructure for my electorate of Hasluck and is needed to serve the health needs of the east metropolitan corridor and the Swan region. The state Minister for Health, the Hon. Kim Hames, affirmed his support for the new hospital in a Midland Health Campus project newsletter in December 2008. However, he referred in that same update, to a construction completion date of 2014—the original announcement was for completion by 2011—a three-year delay. It was further reported in early 2009 that Swan District Hospital staff feared that the hospital construction had again been delayed and was unlikely to be completed before 2015. In the same local newspaper article the state health minister, Kim Hames, denied the reports of a delayed completion date but then claimed that there was a $100 million funding shortfall in their budget for the hospital.

Of further concern, in an answer to a question in the Western Australian parliament the health minister said:

I do not resile from the fact that I am still ambitious about the completion of the hospital by 2014, but I shall have to consider different ways of doing it. One way is to talk to the commonwealth, and I have raised this as one of the projects to which it may like to contribute from the Infrastructure Australia fund to get it on budget. Another alternative is to consider, as we are doing with Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, whether a public-private partnership might not be an alternative method of seeking funding to get it on time and on budget.

The community, especially me, celebrated again when the Rudd Labor government committed funding of $180.1 million to the Midland Health Campus in the May budget last year under its nation-building Health and Hospitals Fund. The funding exceeded the shortfall claimed by the state government. However, I was bitterly disappointed that the state budget, released only days after the federal budget, made no funding provision for the Midland Health Campus. The Barnett government also failed to include any funding for the hospital in the recent mid-year financial review. It would appear the state government are shirking their funding responsibilities to the Midland Health Campus altogether. Despite the significant federal funding support it seems clear that the Liberal-National state government is planning to privatise the replacement for Swan District Hospital.

Minister Kim Hames was recently quoted in Midland-Kalamunda Reporter saying, ‘There are long-term savings to be made with the model, because a PPP’—a public-private partnership—‘has predictable costs’. He said that the government were considering a model similar to what Joondalup Health Campus uses, where a private healthcare company would provide health services under contract to the government, for the Midland campus. Consider the example of Joondalup Health Campus, a public hospital privatised by the Court coalition government in the 1990s. In 1997 funding had to be removed from the major tertiary hospitals to direct funds to the privately operated Joondalup campus. Again, in 1999 Joondalup cancelled surgery and closed beds to public patients due to funding problems. The WA Labor government, elected in 2001, had to pour in extra funding to improve services at the hospital, including establishing an after-hours GP clinic, dental clinic, increased peak beds in winter, an expanded number of mental health beds and, in 2007, additional funding to redevelop the hospital. So much for the term ‘predictable costs’; it is more like predictable cost blow-outs.

What is more, in the WA Auditor-General’s report entitled Private care for public patients—a review of the contractual arrangements of the Joondalup and Peel health campuses, both based on the model supported by Minister Hames for Midland Health Campus—found that, firstly, the contracts relied excessively on self-regulation and third-party monitoring and, secondly, there was no clear contractual mechanism to ensure that the operator’s private commercial interests did not risk coming into conflict with its obligations under the contract. On the question of supposed cost savings, the same Auditor-General report found that:

The contract does not provide any direct savings in service prices.

Further, it found that:

There is not, however, reliable information to establish that the contract provides net tangible benefits to the State relative to the public sector alternative from either services or facilities.

The Liberal Party in Western Australia has a track record of pursuing a privatisation agenda for ideological reasons, but history shows that privatisation does not deliver good outcomes in either patient care or cost savings. There has been a lack of honesty regarding the future of this project from the state government. After years of planning and community consultation about the replacement hospital, the state government is now ignoring local health service needs and putting the jobs of hundreds of Swan District Hospital staff at risk.

My experience of representing health workers for many years taught me that private sector providers need to make a profit. Usually this profit is gained off the back of health workers through lower rates of pay, worse shift arrangements and poorer patient-staff ratios. I am advised, for example, that the difference in rates of pay between the current Swan District Hospital support services staff and the same staff at Peel Health Campus is $4 an hour. That is $152 per week for already very low paid staff.

One of the seven key principles for health system reform determined by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission is that we should be ‘building a health system that is focused on people, not systems’. This includes the people who make the health system work as well as the people who use it.

After almost 17 months in power, the Barnett government needs to get on with the job of ensuring that the health needs of our region are properly looked after. I want an assurance from the Premier that the current hospital staff will not lose their jobs. I also want him to publicly commit to funding and a time frame for the completion of the new hospital. This is causing significant concern in my local community—a two- to three-year delay and a lack of commitment about a hospital that was found, nearly five years ago, to be in desperate need. Finally, the only PPP involving the Midland Health Campus should be that my region gets a hospital that is people-centred, public and professional.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192B. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.