Lower Hunter hospital funding options questioned

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Hospitals are cheaper and more equitable for patients if the private sector doesn’t run them, an economic expert says.

Macquarie University economy and society senior lecturer Dr Ben Spies-Butcher told a community forum this week that public-private partnerships provided “some big challenges” for hospitals.

He said the key issue was ensuring the state government’s contract with the operator was “water tight”, so expectations were clear as to how the facility should be run.

The government has called for expressions of interest from private firms to build and run the new Lower Hunter hospital. But the government maintains it would be a public hospital.

Dr Spies-Butcher cited research that showed private sector involvement in healthcare, globally, increased costs and lowered efficiency.

“Overwhelmingly the public system, for the same procedure, is cheaper,” he said. 

“Public systems are more efficient and more equitable.”

Hunter New England Local Health District chief executive Michael Di Rienzo said the model being considered for the Lower Hunter was comparable to Newcastle’s Calvary Mater Hospital.

He said it would be mandatory for the operator to work within Hunter New England Health’s framework.

“Public patients will be treated exactly the same way as they are now at the current Maitland Hospital,” Mr Di Rienzo said.

Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation executive director Andrew Holland said he believed ideology had driven the decision to consider a PPP.

"There is no evidence that [a public-private partnership] is value for money," he said. 

"Show us the evidence that what you're proposing will be to the benefit of the community."

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison said the community needed an asset that belonged to them.

“We need this hospital, we need it to be public, we need it to be the proper size and we need it now,” she said.

On Tuesday, Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald, who was unable to attend the forum, accused Labor of conducting “a scare campaign” and said “full public access has been guaranteed”.