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Who will pay for and run the new Lower Hunter hospital? That’s a key question expected to be raised at a community forum hosted by The Maitland Mercury on Monday night.
And it’s an important detail that needs to be clarified.
The question of a possible public-private partnership for the new hospital – earmarked, at this stage, for Metford – has been on the agenda for many months.
During her tenure as NSW Health Minister, Jillian Skinner called for expressions of interest for private companies to help build and run the hospital.
With that announcement, the Lower Hunter was lumped in with hospitals at Wyong, Goulburn, Shellharbour and Bowral.
It caused uproar among healthcare workers and many other people in these communities and sparked vocal protest rallies late last year.
The government subsequently reversed the Goulburn decision, such was the discontent. But a question mark hangs over the remaining hospitals.
In March, new Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the government would not enter into a PPP for the Lower Hunter hospital if it was not in the best interest of the community.
Labor Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison (pictured) has been one of the most vocal opponents of a PPP for the Lower Hunter hospital.
While the government insists the new Metford facility would remain a public hospital that catered for public patients under a partnership with the private sector, Ms Aitchison rightly points out that a PPP would take full control of the hospital out of the government’s hands and bring profits into the equation.
When we already have private hospitals in the region, it makes no sense for the government to replace an existing public hospital with a facility that, at least in part, is driven by profits and a responsibility to shareholders.
The flow-on effects of this decision could be long-term and far reaching.
As The Mercury said last October ahead of a rally against the PPP: We must demand to know how many public beds will be available. We must insist on transparency around projected population growth and whether bed numbers will ensure accessible healthcare for all. We must fight for specialist services and not be content with a second-rate hospital.
Monday’s forum will be an opportunity for us to seek important answers that are long overdue.