Labor, government square off over call for tenders for medical services at Tomaree Community Hospital

Tomaree Community Hospital.
Tomaree Community Hospital.

A Port Stephens hospital has become a new battleground over privatisation.

Labor has seized on a Hunter New England Health document it obtained, which calls for tenders for medical service provision at Tomaree Community Hospital, and labelled it “privatisation by stealth”.

But the NSW government has dismissed concerns, with health minister Brad Hazzard saying the outsourcing of medical services has been common practice at community hospitals for a decade.

The Newcastle Herald can reveal the tender is for a contract to provide doctors at the Nelson Bay facility for inpatient services - emergency, acute, palliative and respite care. 

It does not include nurses or allied health workers. The move has angered Labor, which says it is an attempt at “backdoor privatisation”.

“They’ve failed to invest in our hospital, that’s what it needs,” said Port Stephens MP Kate Washington.

“It is once again the Berejiklian government pursuing its passion for privatisation at the expense of public good. It’s the continuing trend to wash its hands of responsibility for the most basic services that a government should be providing.”

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington.

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington.

Mr Hazzard said Tomaree hospital was “a public community hospital, with public community hospital staff”.

He said the strategy of outsourcing medical services at community hospitals was implemented by Labor, when it was in government.

“In a lot of country areas GPs do the roster at the local community hospital, the experience under the former Labor government was that it wasn’t all that successful,” Mr Hazzard said.

“So they implemented five year renewable contracts with local groups who provide GPs.”

Tomaree hospital is a 19-bed facility, with five emergency department beds, and a 14-bed low acuity adult care, sub-acute care and palliative care unit.

The tender document says the successful applicant would get a three year contract with an option for a two year extension. It says the hospital has “a busy emergency department”, with 11,000 presentations a year.

The document noted the department “plays an important role in stabilising acutely ill persons prior to transfer to the tertiary referral centres in Newcastle” – John Hunter and Calvary Mater hospitals.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard.

The call for tenders was issued on February 7, about a fortnight after Mr Hazzard announced the government had scrapped plans for a private or not-for-profit operator for the new Maitland Hospital.

Ms Washington said she found the timing difficult to believe.

“Now, to learn that this was in the wings at that time, it just beggars belief,” she said.

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