A new $1.8 billion public hospital being built on the Sunshine Coast is to be handed over to private sector interests. This is the latest of Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party government attacks on the public sector.
While the Sunshine Coast University Hospital will remain government owned, it will be operated for profit, meaning that the hospital will be operated in the interests of private shareholders rather than the public.
This attack on the Queensland public health system comes on the back of the announcement by the Metro North Hospital and Health Service that it is abolishing 150 nursing and midwifery positions.
Health workers are now concerned about other public health facilities in the Sunshine Coast area, and with good reason, given the LNP’s record. The LNP has already cut back funding of important community health services and sold off state owned nursing homes.
The LNP’s agenda is an attack on the basic principle that health services are a right that should be provided by governments, not a commodity to be bought and sold. Injecting private sector interests into hospitals can only mean our services will suffer.
The quest for profit means hospitals will be constantly under pressure to “rationalise” services, that is, to provide services at a reduced cost. This can come only through making staff work more “efficiently” by expecting them to do more for less, or by cutting back on staff altogether.
There will be downward pressure on wages and conditions, already a problem, but one that will be exacerbated in a profit driven environment. Health care workers who are increasingly underpaid and overworked cannot be expected to provide the kind of services the public should expect and receive.
The Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) has opposed the move, describing it as “a devastating blow”, and has vowed to “fight to the end” to defend the public health system. QNU secretary Beth Mohle said the move could lead to “massive job losses, wage cuts and the introduction of patient fees”.
Around 70 nurses and supporters rallied on the Sunshine Coast on 1 August to oppose the move and some 300 marched on State Parliament in Brisbane on 7 August, where they presented a petition of 6,500 signatures opposing privatisation and outsourcing of public health services.
The QNU is right to oppose attacks on the public health system and should be prepared to escalate industrial action as part of the fight back. A recent poll showed that 74 percent of Queenslanders are against the privatisation of public hospitals and health services, meaning a genuine fight back would have popular support.
Moreover, success in pushing back the LNP agenda in health could have important flow-on effects in pushing back its attacks in other sectors. A militant industrial campaign that draws in support to defend our public health system could be just the spark needed to ignite a broader fight back against the LNP’s attacks on Queensland workers and on those who rely most on government and community services.