Dozens of Illawarra doctors have defied a gag order to highlight their grave concerns about the Baird Government’s plans to part-privatise Shellharbour Hospital.
Despite expectations they will not contradict hospital administrators or comment on policy the 27 doctors wrote to the Mercury, signing off on a letter criticising the government for “abrogating one of its fundamental duties”.
Hailing from different fields of medicine across the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD), the doctors said their willingness to speak out showed the “depth of concern that those on the front line of specialist medical care in the region feel about the lack of any transparency or consultation in this matter”.
Mount Warrigal resident Erwin Langthaller, 83, is a patient of one of the signatories, who is worried elderly, poor and chronically ill patients will be worst off under the government’s plan.
The doctor said patients like Mr Langthaller, who requires complex and labour intensive care to treat his prostate cancer and is able to receive treatment close to home, would not be attractive to private operators focused on making a profit.
Additionally, he is worried frail patients may end up being shuffled around to hospitals further away from home if private operators are less able to work within the ISLHD network.
“The hospitals in the district, particularly the Wollongong and Shellharbour Hospitals, work in tandem, using the strengths of each hospital to deliver complex hospital based care to the local community,” the doctors said in a letter to the editor.
“The replacement of a public hospital with a privately run institution carries the risk of further complicating health care delivery to our community.”
“It is clear that the Shellharbour Hospital is in need of urgent capital redevelopment, but this should not be seen as an opportunity for government to shirk its responsibilities.”
Health Minister Jilian Skinner has previously made it clear the government will push ahead with its public-private partnership, after expressions of interest from non-government operators to build and run a redeveloped Shellharbour Hospital closed in October.
Presented with the doctors’ concerns, Ms Skinner said “public patient healthcare will remain free, just as it is now, under any model proposed by the government for the redevelopment of Shellharbour hospital”.
In a statement to the Mercury, she said the hospital would “remain part of the ISLHD and be required to meet the same strict access, quality and performance standards that apply to all NSW hospitals”.