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Northern Beaches Hospital: abandon public-private model, doctors urge

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The ASMOF has long been critical of the PPP model even before the hospital’s opening last year.

Hospital staff members told the union public patients have been made to wait for surgery when doctors had capacity to perform the procedures to encourage the use of private health insurance.

A senior doctor reported a free specialist outpatient clinic at Manly hospital had been discontinued in favour of private services costing in excess of $200 at the hospital.

The organisation said PPPs had “a long track record of failure” and rejected the assertion a private operator would deliver better value for money was “false and misleading”.

ASMOF warned the Healthscope takeover by private equity business Brookfield would see priorities shift further away from excellence in healthcare and towards maximising profit.

“For this reason the NSW government must have greater oversight of the Northern Beaches Hospital and there must be greater transparency, including outcomes for staff and patients,” ASMOF said.

It was “abundantly clear” Healthscope was ill-prepared to run the hospital when it opened in October 2018, having demonstrated little expertise in delivering public health services, according to ASMOF.

The union said Healthscope “actively resisted identifying NBH as a public hospital or integrating NBH into the public health system” and had failed to genuinely consult with doctors.

It warned these failings would have lasting knock-on effects for patient care and staffing across the Northern Sydney Local Health District, including Royal North Shore Hospital.

In a statement, a Healthscope spokesperson said the hospital welcomed the opportunity to participate in the inquiry.

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“We continue to make ongoing improvements to deliver high-quality patient outcomes to the Northern Beaches community,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said more than 80 per cent of patients rated “very good” the overall quality of treatment and care in mid-July, 11 per cent higher than in the first month of opening.

The hospital’s opening was marred by shortages in basic drugs and medical supplies, understaffing, high-profile resignations and anaesthetists threatening to cancel elective surgeries over serious concerns for patient welfare.

In May, a cancer patient had the wrong side of his colon removed due to an error in his pathology report.

The findings of an external investigation released in July detailed a series of failures weeks after the first patients were admitted.

The union stopped short of declaring the hospital a failure, acknowledging operations had “undoubtedly improved”. But staff continued to raise serious concerns over systemic problems, including permanent staff shortages, an over-reliance on locums and junior doctors working over time and skipping meals to fill the gaps.

Problems with the electronic medical records system, and confusion over what services were available to both public and private patients were constant frustrations.

Overall, ASMOF made 11 recommendations in its submission which was sparked by concerns that the hospital’s public-private status prevented the Auditor-General from conducting full and transparent investigations.

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