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Northern Beaches Hospital Staffing Stress

3 June, 2024:

I rise to speak about the Northern Beaches Hospital, the major level 5 hospital in my electorate of Mackellar, serving over 350,000 people. Let me say at the outset: the professional staff at the hospital are incredibly hardworking and highly skilled. They must be absolutely commended for their commitment. But I hear repeatedly that they are stretched to the limit and burning out as they grapple with what appears to be a regime of cost cutting on top of the usual problems faced by busy public hospitals.

Northern Beaches Hospital is unique in New South Wales as it is the only major hospital run as a public-private partnership. The former Liberal government of New South Wales, which signed up to this arrangement with Healthscope, promised the people of the northern beaches a world-class hospital. But I fear we have been provided with a hospital where the administration is driven too much by profit considerations. So, I'm very pleased that, following my advocacy, the New South Wales government has agreed to a performance audit of the hospital, the first audit since the hospital was opened in 2018. I would also like to thank the New South Wales Auditor-General for inviting my input into the scope of that audit.
There are many reasons to be concerned. Reports in the Financial Review say that Healthscope, now controlled by a Canadian private equity firm based in the Cayman Islands, is burdened with $1.6 billion of debt. Healthscope's auditor has expressed doubt as to whether the holding company for the Northern Beaches Hospital is a going concern.

On the ground, I've been hearing about cuts to services and staff. Patient transport and security have been cut and nursing staff in the mental health wards and maternity reduced. I have been told repeatedly that there is a dire shortage of junior doctors, which delays admissions, ward rounds and discharge processes. Critically, Healthscope has not yet agreed to implement the mandatory safe nurse-to-patient ratios that are being rolled out in every other public hospital in the state of New South Wales this year. The seven-day-a-week GP clinic designed to take pressure off the emergency department has been closed 18 per cent of the time this year due to a lack of staff.

Data from the Bureau of Health Information shows that wait times in the emergency department are growing and are significantly longer than the state average. Deeply distressing for our community is the fact that the hospital administration refused to implement the desperately needed specialised adolescent mental health ward, despite being granted $7.5 million from the New South Wales government for exactly that. I will not stop advocating to ensure that the people of Mackellar and the northern beaches receive the high level of hospital care they deserve.