Health Minister Jillian Skinner. PICTURE: Edwina PicklesHEALTH Minister Jillian Skinner says it’s“nonsense” to suggestthenew Maitland Hospital will have less than 300 beds, despite a leaked departmental document stating the scope of the project had been“reduced”.
Ms Skinner was in Newcastle on Tuesday to announce the opening of the $7 million upgrade of theneonatal intensive care unit at John Hunter Children’s Hospital, which she said would provide“state-of-the-art-care” for about 1100 newborns each year.
But as opposition growsto the Baird government’s decision tohand the new Maitland hospital over to the private sector, MsSkinnerwas forced to deny reports the hospital will bemuch smaller than initiallypromised.
TheNewcastle Heraldhas previouslyreported concernsthe newhospital at Metfordwould be significantly smaller than the 400-plus beds initially promised by the government, prompting Labor to dub itthe‘‘incredible shrinking hospital’’.
On Tuesday Ms Skinner insistedthe new hospitalwillhave “upwards of 350” public and private beds,despite a Health Infrastructurebriefing note from August last year revealingthe new hospital had been“reduced” tohave only282 beds“based on 2022 demand projections”.
It comes at the same time asAustralian Medical Association presidentProfessor Brad Frankum saysMaitland Hospital doctors believedthe government had not properlyconsulted them about which services the region needed–particularly better emergency and intensive carefacilities.
The internal briefing note, marked confidential, reveals thata preliminary business case for the new hospital from 2014 had preferred a 464bed hospital costing $766 million.
However that optionwas knocked backin favour of thecheaper $450 million option.
The briefing note states that as a result of that, and other events including the opening of the Hunter Expressway reducing travel times from the Hunter Valley to the John Hunter Hospital, the scope of the new Maitland hospital would be“reduced” to282 beds.
The documentis more than a year old, and does not include reference to the public-private partnership. Nor does it state that the minister signed off on the proposal.
On Tuesday Ms Skinner said the hospital wouldbe“at least as big as what we proposed, and I think we proposed 350 to 400.
“It will be at least that, I would expect, but possibly more.
“But the nonsense that one of the local members talking about 220 beds is just that.”
Meanwhile, ProfessorFrankum has slammed the government for offering mixed messages on the hospital.
“The clinicians at Maitland seemed to be getting a whole lot of different messages over the last few years about exactly what the hospital size and complexity was going to be,” he said.
“The Ministryof Health and Local Health Districtdo seem tohave changed their mind on a numberof occasions and that creates quite a bit of uncertainty.
“Big projects like this only succeed if they are done with good clinician engagement–that’s not just doctors but nurses and Allied Health professionals as well.
“Those are the people who understand the needs and if they’re not on board, you’re not going to succeed.
“There’s been very significant lack of engagement with clinicians in this whole thing so far.”
About 700 people attended a protest against the government’s public-private partnership plan in Maitland on Saturday, amid concerns about public access to the hospital.
But Ms Skinner said she could“guarantee”that a public patient“would be given exactly the priority they have now” under the terms of contract the government would negotiate.
“It is all about a doctor making a clinical decision about which patient goes first,” she said.
“If they show up at an Emergency Department together for example there will be no distinction between the private and the public patient.”