Friday, 17 October 2014

Why is the NSW Baird Government removing surgical facilities from the new $80 million Byron Central Hospital?

In September 2014 it was reported that the early works contract for the new $80 million Byron Central Hospital had been awarded and, that main works construction on the greenfields site was to begin in 2015.

On 16 October 2014 the Echo Netdaily reported on the possible privatisation of surgical services within this hospital:

The NSW Parliament is today set to debate controversial government plans to privatise the proposed Byron Central Hospital after a move by the Labor opposition yesterday to force the coalition to release all documents related to the development.
It comes as a residents group revealed the Ewingsdale landowner of the surrounding land where plans are being pushed through for almost 200 dwellings, a nursing home and shopping centre is the daughter of one of Australia’s richest beef barons who has been buying up prime farmland nearby.
Byron Shire Council last week narrowly approved pushing the so-called ‘seniors’ development through to its development application (DA) stage, outraging local resident groups who say it should have been deferred for more time to consider the contentious plan which contravened the shire’s new Local Environment Plan (LEP).
But comments by Ballina MP Don Page, following the council decision, that he wanted the private sector to provide surgical services at the hospital has sparked the move in parliament to try and throw light on the hospital plans and the push for privately-run services.
Labor’s shadow health minister Walt Secord says his call for papers, known as a Standing Order 52, in the NSW Legislative Council yesterday will be debated this week.
‘It’s an extraordinary step, but this is about finding out the National Party plans for Byron Central Hospital’, Mr Secord told Echonetdaily.
He said Mr Page’s comments to the ABC in favour of a privately-run service followed an announcement by state health minister Jillian Skinner last month that the central hospital’s project team was ‘undertaking a market sounding process to determine whether there is interest from private providers to deliver surgical services at the facility’.

Read the rest of the article here.

The aforementioned debate did take place and Greens MLC Jan Barham from the Northern Rivers spoke up for the people of Byron Bay Shire and revealed what government members were obfuscating that day -  that surgical facilities had been entirely removed from the architectural plans for this hospital.

NSW Legislative Council Hansard [Proof Copy] 16 October 2014:

Ms JAN BARHAM [10.55 a.m.]: I support the motion moved by the Hon. Walt Secord. I urge members to have a history lesson on this matter because both sides have misrepresented the situation. As to Byron Central Hospital, I spent 10 years attending meetings and dealing with the processes conducted under the former Government for its delivery, only to be thwarted time and time again. For example, a Central Coast hospital was proposed and it was suggested that Byron would lose its two hospitals and get one large hospital in Ballina. I apologise to the Minister for Ageing, who outlined the Government's position, but he is incorrect. The previous process was always followed carefully and stringently, with wide consultation on delivery of the supply plan for the new Byron Central Hospital.

Until February 2014, architectural plans that were shown to community members—who had served for more than 20 years on committees discussing the delivery of a new hospital—included surgery services. The services plan that was completed in 2002 and put out for public consultation included surgery.
The idea of removing surgery services from the hospital, as proposed in the current planning process, is abhorrent to the local community. People feel that promises have been broken and they deserve answers. Members may note that I have put questions on the Notice Paper about these issues. I recently attended a forum at which design plans for the hospital were released, and committee members were shocked to see that the previous architectural plans had been changed to remove surgery services. It was the first they had heard of it. There has been a lack of consultation and notification about this process. People who have the community's interests at heart and who have voluntarily given so much time and energy to local health issues and to this project, were shocked. That night they expressed their displeasure about what was occurring. [my red bolding]

The Government is unwilling to tell the community why surgery services have been dropped or what process is being undertaken to ensure that Byron shire retains those important services. A new proposal should be developed and presented in a manner that conforms with normal processes so the public can access it conveniently. The process must be transparent. There has been misinformation but the important issues are service delivery and good public health services—about which I have put a question on notice. Tourism is also an important consideration. Unfortunately, visitors who engage in dangerous and adventurous activities often use local health services and facilities. I welcome this important motion but I caution members to recognise, observe and acknowledge the history of this matter. The Byron shire community have put in a lot of effort to ensure they get a hospital that meets their needs. I look forward to these issues being considered and resolved.

On a vote in the Lower House the motion passed and the Baird Government is now obliged to supply to Parliament all documents, including but not limited to ministerial briefing notes, email correspondence, financial documents, memos, file notes, meeting papers and meeting minutes relating to the new Byron Central Hospital and Maitland Hospital.

These documents should be interesting to say the least, as one local resident in a submission to the NSW Minister for Planning & Environment in September 2014 outlined how planned surgical services were whittled away before being removed from the building design:

As a member of Byron Bay Hospital Aux, I have been interested in the planning process for the new Byron Shire Central Hospital since the first consultants were engaged by the Dept to consult with the local community, so probably for over 20 years. Along every step of this process I have attended numerous public meetings as well as meetings of the planning committee and was always assured that there would be no downgrading of the services available at the Byron Bay or Mullumbimby Hospitals until the new Hospital was built and we would keep all the current services available at both Hospitals and indeed add to these services, when the new hospital was built. I was astounded to see that the plans currently on exhibition make no mention of operating theatres or day surgery. The initial proposal incorporated two "state of the art" operating theatres. This later became theatres for day surgery procedures and now we have non{e} at all!. As Byron Bay Hospital has facilities for day surgery and has had some form of theatre since it's inception, I find it totally unacceptable that the new Central Hospital has none at all and I say this whilst being well aware that the Area Health Board is looking for expressions of interest for a private provider to build operating theatres on the site, for them to buy back services from. I wish to strongly object to the fact that there is not allowance for operating theatres in these plans. These plans must include provision for at least day surgery in the event that no private provider is found, otherwise the people of the Byron Shire have been duped by the Health Department. This Hospital underwent a very lengthy and painful community consultation, there was much ill feeling in both communities over the loss of both hospitals. The community only agreed to the one Central Hospital provided there was no loss of services. They would not agree to what is now proposed in these plans. 

Once again the North Coast Nationals appear to have blindly endorsed a flawed health services plan for the Northern Rivers region.

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