The rate of private health insurance cover in the Lower Hunter was a key reason that the state government abandoned a public-private partnership for the new Maitland Hospital, NSW Parliament has heard.
A 17,000-signature petition was debated in the lower house on Thursday afternoon, calling for the new hospital to be fully publicly run and publicly funded.
It comes after the government announced in July that it would seek expressions of interest from the not-for-profit sector to build and run the facility at Metford.
The decision has been criticised by Labor and the unions.
Dozens of Hunter residents and health care workers travelled to Sydney to listen to the debate on Thursday.
They applauded Hunter Labor MPs Jenny Aitchison, Kate Washington and Yasmin Catley when they spoke and could be heard laughing at some comments from Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Nationals Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen.
“Our community has waited six years while this government has sat on its hands and made promises, after promises, after promises,” Ms Aitchison said.
“They keep telling us this will be just like the [Calvary] Mater, let that rest. This is nothing like the Mater. This is a private hospital by any other name.”
Mr Hazzard said the rate of private health insurance in the Maitland area was “one of the driving forces” behind the government’s decision to scrap its plan for a public-private partnership and opt for not-for-profit sector involvement.
He accused Labor of playing politics with the issue.
“The truth of the matter is [Ms Aitchison] knows that $450 million is a huge commitment to Maitland Hospital and to the rebuild, and that’s on top of the land,” Mr Hazzard said.
Mr Johnsen said staff numbers at the existing Maitland Hospital – which will close when the new facility opens – had increased by 13.7 per cent since the 2012/13 financial year.
Before the debate, executive director of doctors’ union ASMOF Andrew Holland said privatisation would take resources away from patient care.
“We will continue to fight this privatisation, tooth and nail,” he said.
Nurse Jane Burton, who is a representative of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association’s Maitland branch, said resources at Maitland Hospital were already being drained.
“We can't be squeezed any further,” she said.