The many extracts on these pages are from copyright material. They are owned by the reference given or its owner. They are reproduced here for educational purposes and to stimulate public debate about the provision of health and aged care. I consider this to be "fair use" in the common interest. They should not be reproduced for commercial purposes. The material is selective and I have not included denials and explanations. I am not claiming that all of the allegations are true. The intention is to show the general thrust of corporate practices as well as the nature and extent of any allegations made.

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This page examines the background to the Mersey public hospital and the Burnie public hospital privatisations in Tasmania. It then explores what happened in the community and the hospital when Healthscope, a company with a very strong commercial focus bought the contract to run the loss making Mersey public hospital.

Australian section


The Mersey Hospital Story


The purchase of the Mersey public hospital contract from Mayne Health in 2002 provides a useful insight into a number of key issues in regard to the nature of the corporate marketplace and of Healthscope in particular.

Healthscope is in many respects the ideal corporation and probably sees itself as such. Its small board reads like a who's who of prestigious market expertise and probity. It pays service to its corporate governance as well as its good relations with doctors and nurses. It is proud of its record in employee safety. It has embraced Total Quality Management and continuous improvement throughout its empire. It has been very successful and is ecstatically self confidant as it grows and grows.

What happened in Mosman in NSW, in the Mersey hospital in Tasmania, and in the insurance dispute in South Australia illustrates the enormous divide between the underlying conceptions about the nature of health care. We have the commercial marketplace paradigm on the one side of this deep conceptual divide and they have market power. The bulk of the health professions and the public are on on the other side embracing what can be called the Samaritan paradigm. They have little market power. By a takeover process initiated by the market and pro market politicians, health has been moved from the Samaritan paradigm to the commercial marketplace paradigm where, as Healthscope so clearly explains, market power determines outcomes. The humanitarian and cooperative community focus is constrained by marketplace laws which consider Samaritan arrangements to serve the community collusive and anticompetitive.

In the Mosman, Mersey and insurance corporate battles the public and the health care providers who have little power sustained "collateral damage" in the corporate battles for profit. Instead of serving them the market sector was using them for corporate gain, and ignoring their interests in their own struggle for ascendancy and survival.

If the corporate market works then Healthscope is the sort of company where what happened at the Mersey hospital, at Mosman and in South Australia should not occur. It is starkly apparent that all the superficial verbiage, and the self-righteous image claiming a commitment to patients and community are thrown out of the window when profits are at stake.

I have written about the divide between these two paradigms elsewhere. In operational mode, including public reports, corporations speak and operate in market mode. When threatened the market and its supporters make claims to serving the community and patients. Companies like Healthscope incongruously assert this as their prime responsibility, while at the same time focussing on the profits on which survival in the market depends. It is a mistake to think that they don't mean what they say when they are saying it, but you cannot serve two contradictory conceptual masters without running into major problems. There is no doubt which is the stronger master.

I have argued that the intellectual discomfort which should be experienced in this contradictory situation is avoided by a process of psychological compartmentalisation. Fundamentally contradictory starting points are separated in the mind and the conflicts between them are never confronted. The individuals and the culture come to live in two separate worlds, selecting and expressing whichever suits the moment. Strategies are used to maintain this divide and when it erupts into the open then there is defensive rationalisation and anger. When the contract to run the Mercy hospital was finally cancelled there was an attempt to shift the blame for the consequences of the dominant market belief system on to those who challenged its prescriptions from the other. The comments by Healthscope about what happened and the nature of the contract (which was never disclosed) after the government was forced to take back the hospital are interesting. The politicians, not surprisingly pick on their vocal opponents!

Apr 2004 Healthscope blames their critics

Healthscope's chief medical officer Doctor Michael Coglin says Healthscope is happy with the terms of the contract termination but says it is a disappointing end.
"We've been opposed by a motley coalition of federal, state and local politicians only interested in political point scoring," he said.

"Staff, unions, doctors and others whose only solution to those problems is to shoot the messenger and then hope that things will go back to the way they were in the good old days."
Mersey hospital operator fires parting shot Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News April 25, 2004

Apr 2004 Healthscope's final analysis

He (Coglin) said the old hospital contract had been a "seven-year impediment to that reform" and the decision to terminate it was "a good outcome for Healthscope".
Hospital deal ditches $140m Mersey dash for cash ends funding plan Hobart Mercury April 27, 2004

Apr 2004 Tasmania's Premier

The Tasmanian Premier says the previous Liberal Government's 1995 decision to privatise the Mersey Community Hospital was disastrous and is a failed experiment.
"They didn't privatise it for five minutes, Mr Speaker, they privatised the thing for 25 years - 15 years with an option of a further 10," he said.
Lennon blames Liberals for Mersey woes Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News April 27, 2004

Doctors who enter the corporate system inhabit these two worlds and experience the most discomfort when conflicts between them are brought into the open. They have to shift loyalties to succeed in the marketplace, and do so by sealing off conflicts with their professional heritage. In describing Healthscope's early history and its near collapse I indicated how medical administrators with obsolete traditional ideas were replaced by hard headed business managers and doctors who were able to identify with the corporate profit mission without experiencing discomfort. Particularly revealing of the processes at work are the statements of Dr. Michael Coglin, Healthscope's chief medical officer as reported in the press. When Healthscope first acquired the Mersey money losing contract he indicated that commercial considerations were primary.

When confronted by a massive community and medical backlash to their commercial restructuring Coglin and Healthscope entered the other world and indicated that responsibility to patients was primary. They can't have it both ways.

Sept 2003 Profits first

Dr. Coglin said he had no intention of operating MCH (Mersey Community Hospital) at a loss and that commercial considerations are primary
The Advocate [Burnie] (News Bites Summary) September 3, 2003

Mar 2004 Patients first

But Dr. Coglin says the safety of patients has always been its priority.
Health Minister confronts Mersey Hospital workers Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News March 29, 2004


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Background :The Mersey Hospital Story

Burnie and Mersey hospitals:- In 1994 the Mersey hospital was a full service public hospital serving the Devonport region. It was 30 minutes away from Burnie where Healthscope owned the North West Hospital. Healthscope also owned the small Ulverstone Private hospital which it sold in 1997 because it was running at a loss. In about 1994 a new public hospital, the "North West Regional Public Hospital" was built in Burnie, presumably by the government. It seems to have been a larger better resourced hospital than the Mersey which served a larger community in nearby Devonport. I did not see reports indicating how or when Healthscope was contracted to run the hospital but it may have been at this time. A statement was made about it in 1997 by investment bank BZW Australia. A report in the Hobart Mercury in 2003 indicated this and in 2005 the minister confirmed that Healthscope had a lease to run the public hospital until 2010.

In 1995 Healthscope built a medical centre adjacent to the public hospital and what it now called its co-located North West Private Hospital. I did not see reports describing profits or losses from the public hospital and it seems possible that Healthscope's reports actually referred to the two together.

The co-located hospital and its associated medical centre was very profitable and Healthscope claimed its arrangement with the North West Regional Public Hospital was a role model for co-location. It was not apparent from Healthscope's statements and reports that this was a colocation in which they ran both facilities - not one with a true public hospital. This was one in which they were in a position to manipulate the services and the patients for commercial purposes. I have no evidence to suggest that this happened prior to the purchase of the Mersey contract.

Reading the reports from which extracts are reproduced here, most of us would assume, as I did, that the public patients and the services that were transferred from Mersey hospital to Burnie in 2004 were going to the public hospital under government care. It was probably far more profitable for Healthscope to downsize Mersey and transfer services and patients from this money losing hospital to a profitable one. This is particularly so if that larger hospital in a smaller community were less utilised and the transfer would bring more benefits to its co-located private hospital.

We can reasonably infer that Healthscope sought government agreement to this downsizing. This was clearly in breech of the contract to supply these services to the Devonport community. The government supported healthscope's actions. This was an established and highly valued public hospital owned mentally and physically by Devonport taxpayers. They were kept in the dark - if not deliberately lied to. This web page describes what happened when the community and the staff at the Mersey hospital found out what was happening and took their hospital back.

Nov 1994 Healthscope's co-located private hospital in Burnie

The North West Medical Centre which will link our currently operating North West Hospital to a newly constructed North West Regional Public Hospital in Burnie is scheduled to open in January 1995. It will house pathology, radiology, pharmacy and other services. Again the facility will open on time and on budget.
HEALTHSCOPE LIMITED: CHAIRMAN'S ADDRESS (Part A) Australian Stock Exchange Company Announcements November 22, 1994

Mar 1995 Co-location ambitions

The Medical Centre is located between our 70 bed Private hospital and a newly constructed Public hospital. It comprises a range of diagnostic laboratories and consulting suites for a wide group of medical services and it is a further example of the Company's aim to pursue colocation opportunities whenever possible.
HEALTHSCOPE LIMITED: Periodic Reports Half-yearly (Part D) Australian Stock Exchange Company Announcements March 10, 1995

Feb 1997 Suggests Healthscope did build public hospital

Whereas previous privately funded public hospitals - such as the Burnie hospital in Tasmania, in which BZW was also involved - have required some form of government risk participation, the only government involvement at Latrobe was to pay for the services.
Risk Shift In Hospitals Australian Financial Review February 18, 1997

Oct 1997 Co-location success

The hospital is an outstanding example of collocation with public facilities, being adjacent to the North West Medical Centre and Burnie Public Hospital. Opportunities exist for further co-operation between the private and public sectors in Tasmania. We believe that we can improve our results in North West Tasmania by working closely with the Government to improve health delivery to the community. The Ulverstone facility operated at a loss for the year and as already announced, will close on 31 October 1997.
ASX-Healthscope Limited (HSP.AX) Chairman`s Address to Shareholders. Australian Stock Exchange Company Announcements October 28, 1997

Feb 2003 Who actually runs the regional public hospital?

Healthscope already operates the North-West Regional Hospital in Burnie, adding Latrobe's Mersey to its package of public facilities.
Jobs talks as hospitals sell. Hobart Mercury February 4, 2003

Aug 2004 Well yes its Healthscope!

He (Health minister) wants the Mersey transition (back to government) to bed down but admits there are issues over the lease on the North-West Regional Hospital in Burnie, due to expire in 2010.
One hospital, two campuses Llewellyn seeks to take the long view Hobart Mercury August 10, 2004

The Mersey Privatisation:- During the wild enthusiasm to privatise public hospitals the liberal government in power in Tasmania contracted the Mersey hospital to Mayne Nickless. It seems that it was not profitable and Mayne eventually sold it to Healthscope as part of a package of six money losing hospitals in early 2003.

The press reports about the Mersey hospital often refer to the LaTrobe region and this seems to be a local Tasmanian area, and not the LaTrobe region in Victoria.

Oct 1994 Mayne Nickless' contract for the Mersey hospital

- - - - - while in Tasmania HCOA has entered negotiations with the State Government to lease and operate the Mersey Hospital near Devonport.
MAYNE NICKLESS LIMITED: RE.HEALTH CARE OF AUSTRALIA'S NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN QLD & TAS (Part A) Australian Stock Exchange Company Announcements October 4, 1994

May 1995 Mayne Nickless' signs contract for the Mersey hospital

THE private hospital subsidiary of the Mayne Nickless group has signed a contract with the Tasmanian Government to lease Mersey Hospital near Devonport for 15 years.
The Mersey has 110 beds and operates as a general medical, surgical and obstetrics hospital with an intensive care unit and 24-hour accident and emergency service. It accepts both public and private patients.
Health Care Wins Mersey Hospital Lease
Australian Financial Review May 15, 1995


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The Political Background

The stereotype of the labour party as representing labour against business is false. All parties need money to fund the massive marketing necessary for electoral success. That money comes mostly from corporate donations. Corporations are employers of labour and labour state premiers compete to bring corporate businesses to their states and so increase employment. Labour governments form relationships with corporations, and in turn subsidise them in a number of ways when in government. In Tasmania labour and business have become particularly close because of the environmental movement against the logging of old forest. Logging is a major industry and employer in Tasmania. Tasmania's labour premier has close associations with the logging industry. This proved an embarrassment for the federal labour party in the 2004 election. Federal labour were promoting an environmentally friendly policy and were opposing old forest logging.

A consequence of the close links between business and governments is that neither major political party will take on issues of probity and misconduct unless there is considerable political mileage to be gained. When this happens it is likely to be an opposition party whose policies and past practices do not prevent it from acting. This did happen in Victoria in regard to Tenet/NME in 1994 and again with Sun Healthcare in 1998. Opposition parties were able to capitalised on the corporate failures.

It did not happen with HealthSouth under labour in Victoria in 2003. The public was not informed of Healthsouth's criminal conduct by the Australian press, even though Healthsouth's local division had been implicated in the fraud. The liberal opposition with so many skeletons in its cupboard remained silent. There was no political mileage to be gained. The same thing happened with Mosman hospital in NSW in 2004. The opposition politicians, who had received donations from Healthscope, supported the company.

In Tasmania it was different. There was a strong community perspective that had focused around the issue of logging. The Green party held a number of seats and was a political force. When the whole Mersey community exploded in sustained anger the opposition parties picked up the issue. It became a huge embarrassment for the ruling labour party. The community won the battle and got its way, but the war is probably not yet over.

Paul Lennon, who was thrust into the premiers job when his predecessor became ill, was a strong supporter of Gunn's the major logging group in Tasmania. His links to business raised the suspicions of the Mersey community. A secret plan, negotiated between government and Healthscope, to downsize the Mersey hospital and transfer services to Burnie was suspected by the public and they asserted it repeatedly. The local government labour member for the Mersey region advocated downsizing the hospital to convalescent care. The minister of health supported this downsizing at early meetings with the community.

Under its contract Healthscope could not downgrade the hospital without government approval. The public did not know the terms of the agreement or whether Healthscope had breached it. Government refused to disclose their negotiations and it was only when their position became untenable that they promised to maintain full hospital services at the Mersey hospital.

Feb 2005 The Lennon story

The 49-year-old had been Jim Bacon's (sick premier) best mate and part of his inner circle, and was his deputy premier.

He was a big, bristling redhead, a huge fan of the timber industry and the hard man of the Government.
Paul Lennon was hard Right, a conservative Catholic who also saw no problem in cultivating strong relationships with big business.

In the shockwaves that followed his sudden ascension to the top job, there was an expectation he would soften his image.
The press gallery waited for signs Paul Lennon was to be made-over from head-kicker to hand-holder.

It never happened.
A year into the job, it's clear Paul Lennon isn't going to re-invent himself to suit anyone's agenda.
Paul Lennon could face a tougher fight in the electorate. His close relationship with Gunns chairman John Gay, an easing in the economy and concerns about the performance of the Sydney-Devonport ferry could count against him.
He could write a book on the challenges he faced in his first year, including going head-to-head with federal Labor leader Mark Latham over forestry.
Doing it his way Tasmania's reluctant leader carries the Labor torch but in a very different style Hobart Mercury February 12, 2005

Nov 2003 Downsizing talk

The Mersey Community Hospital is unable to shift its focus towards chronic care services and other facilities because it is bound by a contract with the Tasmanian Government - - - - - - - - - . Mersey is currently committed to a long-term deal with the government that outlines which services it is able to provide and at what level these services may be delivered.
TAS GOVT CONTRACT BINDS HOSPITAL TO CURRENT COURSE The Examiner [Launceston] (News Bites Summary) November 25, 2003

Feb 2004 Downsizing

Independent Legislative Council candidate for Mersey, Steve Martin, says the pacemaker clinic was transferred from the Devonport Community Health Centre more than a year ago.
Mr Martin believes the State Health Minister should review the change in light of the recent takeover by Healthscope of the Mersey Community Hospital.
Push to return pacemaker services to Devonport. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Regional News February 10, 2003

Mar 2004 Downsizing talk - initial community response

Mr Martin said more than 2900 people signed and presented a petition to Parliament and it seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

"The petition arose from the deferral of pacemaker clinics from the Mersey to the North-West Regional Hospital, then highlighting the perceived intention of Healthscope and the Government to reduce services," he said.
"Since the petition was presented the people of Mersey have heard nothing from the Government or its local member."
Meanwhile, Mersey MLC Norma Jamieson (labour party) has suggested the Mersey Community Hospital become a centre for excellence specialising in convalescence, rehabilitation and palliative/terminal care.
Obstetrician backs move from Mersey Hobart Mercury March 24, 2004

Mar 2004 Downsizing talk - the minister talks

"The clinicians are very clear that the best way to deliver can only be with critical mass, from the one centre," he (Llewellyn) said.

"The issue that has to be resolved is where that ought to be.

"We are faced with -- that is me and the Government -- having to deal with matters of safety and quality."
Foot-stomp message for Health Minister Hobart Mercury March 26, 2004

Mar 2004 Secret agenda exposed

Greens health spokesman Tim Morris also called on Mr Llewellyn to "start being honest and open" with the people of the North-West.
He (Mr. Rockliff) said it was disgusting that the State Government had clearly been involved in the plan to downgrade services at the Mersey some month ago, which had been revealed in a confidential report.

He said he understood the report had been written by Tim Sutton, head of the State Advisory Committee on Women and Children's Services.
"It is clear that Healthscope is in breach of its contract with the Government by not providing obstetric services as well as full emergency services at the Mersey, and that the minister is siding with Healthscope rather than the community whom he is supposed to represent."
"The failure to release this vital information will be interpreted as the Government not telling the whole truth, while having another agenda, as hinted at in the recently released Expert Issues Paper," he said.

The paper recommends a single site for acute services in the North-West and was released for discussion the day the Mersey cutbacks were announced.
Mersey barrage for the minister Hobart Mercury March 27, 2004


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What's in it for Healthscope

Few if any of the contracts to run public hospitals in Australia had proved profitable. Healthscope had been severely burned with the Modbury contract in South Australia. The money losing Mersey hospital must have seemed a poisoned pill tied to the other five hospitals in the six-pack it had bought. If it could be downsized and the work moved to Burnie where it seems the contract to run that hospital allowed them to make money then this purchase could be justified. One would expect them to have discussed this with government before the sale.

Mersey was soon losing large amounts of money for Healthscope too. The contract prevented it from making money. There was every commercial reason why it would want to unload as much as it could to Burnie. Failing that it would want to get rid of the hospital as quickly as possible. Healthscope seems to have reached an arrangement with government to downsize the hospital, in spite of the contract , but if such an arrangement existed then it has never been disclosed. At the outset Healthscope asserted its legitimate marketplace right to implement commercial decisions. That the community did not see this their way at all seems to have been a surprise to them.

What is clear is that a hospital which had run peacefully without major upsets in spite of its losses from 1995 to 2003 became a source of recurrent major problems for the community, doctors, nurses and ultimately the government. This started at the time Healthscope took over the contract and continued until the hospital was handed back.

It is also clear that whatever its justifications for doing so Healthscope initiated the crisis by closing down services and transferring them to Burnie. The Health minister supported Healthscope in this. The community identified what it considered a conspiracy to downgrade the hospital without consulting them. The company seemed to repeatedly give assurances which those involved in the dispute soon after claimed were broken.

Nov 2003 Nurses distrust

The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) is not convinced by management assurances that no jobs will be lost in structural reforms at Latrobe's Mersey Hospital. ANF Tasmanian secretary Neroli Ellis said the hospital is planning to merge a number of wards and hospital departments in a bid to reduce nurse management numbers.
Mersey Hospital director of nursing Anne Cabalzar confirmed that management restructuring was taking place but denied there would be any reduction in staff. An anonymous hospital source said the Mersey was planning to reduce the number of public beds in the facility while some nurses have been forced to reapply for their own jobs.
HOSPITAL DENIES PLAN TO CUT NURSING STAFF The Advocate [Burnie] (News Bites Summary) November 19, 2003

Whether Healthscope behaved in a dishonest manner as the press extracts and its actual conduct suggests, or was also a victim of what happened is an unresolved issue. The information has not been released.

As important as the unknown facts was the very accurate perception of the community that this company was primarily interested in profit and not in servicing them. This was their hospital and they were not going to let this happen. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the legal context, or the actual undisclosed facts, the fracas exposes the fundamental difference in perceptions. This is why for profit marketplace medicine will inflame passions and the community's anger whenever financial considerations are seen to trump care. Similar angry responses to corporate health care companies have occurred on multiple occasions in the USA.

Mar 2004 A set up by Healthscope

A TASMANIAN senator claims downgrading the Mersey Community Hospital is a set-up to force a permanent reduction in services.

Senator Richard Colbeck said a cruel confluence of announcements last week resulted in services at the Mersey being downgraded.

Before the Senate on Tuesday night, he said the decision had left the community insecure, uncertain and crying for information and support, which had not been forthcoming, from the State Government.
"There is evidence to suggest that Healthscope, the operators of the Mersey Community Hospital, deliberately established the circumstances that forced the downgrading of services to coincide with the release of the discussion paper," Senator Colbeck said.

"Information given to me since the announcement, and from recent contact I have had with the hospital on other matters relating to the employment of medical specialists, all point to this being a set-up."
Set-up claim on hospital service cuts Hobart Mercury March 19, 2004

Apr 2004 Healthscope's indignation

Dr. Coglin said the talk of profit was speculation and Healthscope had a contract to manage the hospital and at all times had attempted to meet its obligations.

"The hospital does not make a profit, and can't under the current contract," he said.

"It is naive and extreme to suggest it is a profit-making venture. Rather than pointing the finger and making wild accusations, people should realise that we are subsidising the public service."
Hospital support group on the attack Hobart Mercury April 9, 2004

Apr 2004 Healthscope's explanation

The move by Healthscope has been surrounded by accusations the company is angling for a permanent cut -- because of underlying budget pressures.

Chief medical officer Michael Coglin has not been shy about admitting the hospital contract does not make money.

But he has also been adamant the move has been prompted by patient safety and not the bottom line.
Next step in debate Sunday Tasmanian April 18, 2004


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The Sale of the Mersey Contract

The extent of the consultation between Healthscope and government is not known. There was no delay in approving the sale of the contract to Healthscope. Hospital staff were well aware that the hospital was not profitable and their immediate concern was for their jobs. The company had made its commercial priorities clear. Healthscope responded by giving assurances about staff and about retaining services.

Nov 2002 Plans to sell become public

Mayne Health hospitals Hobart Private, St Helen's and Mersey Community Hospital at Latrobe are believed to be open to deals if sold as a single package.
In Tasmania, speculation has firmed the three hospitals are open to expressions of interest, with nurses concerned at a lack of communication.
"We have a contract with the Mayne group which we are continuing and that contract provides that before any changes are made with regard to that particular hospital [Mersey] then obviously it is a matter that needs to be discussed with government."
Tassie hospital sell-off tipped. Hobart Mercury November 21, 2002

Feb 2003 Sells to Healthscope

Yesterday, Mayne Group Ltd announced it had finalised an agreement for the sale of the Hobart Private, St Helen's Private and Mersey Community hospitals to Healthscope Limited.
Healthscope already operates the North-West Regional Hospital in Burnie, adding Latrobe's Mersey to its package of public facilities.
Jobs talks as hospitals sell. Hobart Mercury February 4, 2003

Sept 2003 The unions

Union members at Mersey Community Hospital will not co-operate with any changes made in the hospital until its operator Healthscope spells out the jobs or services it intends to cut to solve its $A1m deficit problem.
AUSTRALASIAN NEWS BITES The Examiner [Launceston] September 3, 2003

Sept 2003 No assurances on staff cuts

On September 2, 2003, the operator of Mersey Community Hospital (MCH), Healthscope, refused to give guarantees it would not cut non-clinical staff numbers as a result of an efficiency review now underway.
Dr. Coglin (Healthscope's chief medical officer) said he had no intention of operating MCH (Mersey Community Hospital) at a loss and that commercial considerations are primary
The Advocate [Burnie] (News Bites Summary) September 3, 2003

Sept 2003 Assurances given

STAFF at the Mersey Community Hospital at Latrobe received a major reassurance their jobs were secure after a meeting between management and their union yesterday.
He said Healthscope had committed to an agreement that there would be no transfer of any services between Mersey and the company's operation in Burnie.
"Services at the hospital will not suffer because we have a contract to honour with the State Government on the range and volume of services," he (Dr. Coglin) said.
Hospital boss says jobs are safe Hobart Mercury September 5, 2003

Nov 2003 Reducing beds not services

Dr. Coglin vigorously denied claims that the provision of services to public patients would be reduced. He said the number of beds at the hospital would be reduced by 20, but said the contract was based on the volume of public service provided, and not the number of beds. He said the assistant director of nursing position would not be retained but a new general manager position would be added.
CLAIMS REJECTED; HOSPITAL SERVICES 'WILL NOT BE CUT' The Advocate [Burnie] (News Bites Summary) November 20, 2003


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Closing Down Services

The first closures were in obstetrics and emergency care. The justification was a lack of medical staff. One can ask whether they were actively trying to recruit staff or whether they were making it difficult for them to stay?

It is significant that the medical and nursing staff whom one would expect to be particularly concerned about patient safety strongly opposed what Healthscope was doing. They felt it increased risks - the reason Healthscope gave for the closures.

Mar 2004 Obstetrics and emergency services reduced

A STAFF crisis has forced the North-West Coast's Mersey Community Hospital to close its obstetrics department and reduce emergency services.
Mr Llewellyn (Health minister) said Healthscope had advised him last week there were serious questions about the sustainability of acute services at the hospital at Latrobe.
He said there was only one qualified obstetrician at the Mersey and despite intensive recruiting efforts the hospital had been unable to obtain assured support and relief arrangements.
"Healthscope has raised serious concerns about its capacity to continue providing full obstetric services from Mersey."

The hospital was also experiencing a serious shortage of specialists in the emergency department.

"As a result, Healthscope has expressed concerns about its ability to continue to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week treatment to high need emergency cases," he said.
(Healthscope MD Dixon) "We are spreading very scarce resources across a region, and it is a difficulty. We are trying to run two very large sites with very scarce resources."

Healthscope chief medical officer Dr. Michael Coglin said the decision to redirect patients to a better staffed and equipped hospital was the only appropriate solution.
Services shutdown forced on hospital Hobart Mercury March 17, 2004

Mar 2004 Health workers object

Health workers at the Mersey Community Hospital on Tasmania's north-west coast have met today over management moves to downgrade acute care services.
An emergency nurse at the Mersey Hospital, Judy Richmond, says the extra travel time for seriously ill patients is likely to result in deaths.
Workers meet over hospital cuts Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News March 17, 2004

Mar 2004 The community's initial response

"It is obvious Healthscope has not been able to make a success of the Mersey Hospital and therefore closure seems, for them, a logical next step," Ald Hollister said.

"If this happened, the Devonport district, with a population of 70,000, would be left with virtually no Government-funded health services.
Ald Hollister said since he had expressed disgust at the cutbacks to services, he had been inundated with phone calls from residents.

"I have also had calls from medical practitioners and other health service providers, all stating their strong concerns about the future of health in the Devonport district," he said.
Mersey hospital closure concern Hobart Mercury March 20, 2004

Mar 2004 Obstetrics goes

All women booked to deliver babies at the Latrobe hospital have been transferred to the North-West Private Hospital in Burnie.
Hospital announces maternity service changes Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News March 22, 2004

Mar 2004 Community objects

LIVES are on the line at the downgraded Mersey Community Hospital, says a Liberal MP.
He has been critical of the business hours approach to emergency services.
Mr Rockliff said Mr Llewellyn had not adequately addressed rumours that the Mersey would close at the end of the financial year.

"Provision of 24-hour accident and emergency services in the Devonport area is not negotiable and the State Government must make a decision to maintain these emergency services," Mr Rockliff said.

"Having `shop opening hours' for emergency services at the Mersey is a pathetic, substandard and inappropriate decision.
Mr Llewellyn said the Mersey was not closing and would not close.
Rockliff ire at Mersey downgrade Hobart Mercury March 23, 2004

Mar 2004 Government's position supports Healthscope

Dr. Tim Sutton, head of a committee (government) which oversees women's and children's hospital services in the state, said the transfer to the North-West Regional Hospital at Burnie was required to ensure safe services.

"The situation at Mersey needs to be seen in the light of the availability of specialist staff to handle the workload," Dr. Sutton said.
"Mersey has now operated for three months with just one obstetrician and one pediatrician.
Meanwhile, a former political candidate said yesterday Government assurances about the future of the Mersey could be a smokescreen.
Obstetrician backs move from Mersey Hobart Mercury March 24, 2004



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The Community Mobilises

The response of the community was rapid and dramatic. A series of angry and effective public meetings were held. Government politicians and Healthscope were challenged and forced to respond. Lobby groups were formed. The groups drew together embracing the doctors and the nurses in the movement.

Mar 2004 First Public meeting

THOUSANDS of stomping feet last night sent a loud and clear message to Health Minister David Llewellyn about the future of the Mersey Community Hospital.

More than 1700 people turned out for a packed public meeting at Latrobe to oppose service cutbacks.
The crowd booed loudly as Mr Llewellyn entered the hall just before the meeting began, and interjected as he put his position on the cutbacks.

He pledged the hospital would not close, and said it was a pure coincidence the cutback was announced on the same day as a review recommending a centralisation of services at Burnie.
But the people of the region stole the show with passionate stories of how important the hospital was to them.
(Ms Pearce - citizen)"Does the Government not realise it is being manipulated by Healthscope?

"The current system has been in place for many years and has been totally adequate.
Devonport's Bronwyn Dudfield, unit manager for women's and children's health at the Mersey, said the time taken to transport women would affect safe birthing, and with a permanent loss of obstetrics they could also lose pediatrics.

Last night's meeting passed three motions, including one -- which received rousing approval -- of no confidence in Healthscope.

A second motion called for the recruitment of trained specialists from overseas to work at the Mersey.

The final motion called for the State and Federal Governments to regain control of the hospital and make it a full training facility, assisted and recognised by both levels of government.
Foot-stomp message for Health Minister Hobart Mercury March 26, 2004

Mar 2004 First Public meeting

The turnout for the Latrobe meeting on Thursday night was extraordinary, the crowd sending a clear signal to Health Minister David Llewellyn in emotional terms that the North-West would not accept second-rate hospital services.
But emotional testimonies and the stomping of feet won't solve the deep problems facing the Mersey in particular and hospital services in the North-West in general.
High emotion on Coast Hobart Mercury March 27, 2004

Mar 2004 A second meeting - costing votes

THE State Government's handling of the Mersey Community Hospital could cost it seats in Parliament, says Devonport Mayor Peter Hollister.

Ald Hollister said the message was clear when people power spoke again at a big public meeting in Devonport yesterday -- the people of Mersey would not put up with being disenfranchised.

The second large public meeting in four days in the North-West put pressure on Health Minister David Llewellyn.
Ms Moyle (citizen) said standards seemed to have gone down since the hospital had been handed over to private operation.

"We've had a change of three managers in that time, and gone for some time without one," Ms Moyle said.

"We had a very good board made up of people from the community, and they need to have more input."
Opposition health spokeswoman Sue Napier called on the Government to release the full detail of Healthscope's contract.

Mrs Napier said the Tasmanian community needed to know what contractual safeguards there were to protect them in situations as disastrous as that now confronting the North-West.
Anger over hospital downgrade erupts at second big meeting Voters will strike back Hobart Mercury March 29, 2004

Mar 2004 A second meeting

The minister faced an angry crowd of residents and health workers in Devonport yesterday.

More than 3,000 people gathered at the foreshore to voice their concerns about Heathscope's decision to downgrade obstetrics and emergency services at the Mersey.

Many are angry at claims community leaders have been left in the dark.

"How can we truly have democracy if our own people in this region are not being consulted?" a protester said.
Meanwhile, the owner of the hospital has rejected claims it is pushing a private agenda with its decision to downgrade the hospital.

Health workers have accused the company of putting profits ahead of public safety.

Healthscope chief medical officer Dr. Michael Coglin addressed the crowd protesting in Devonport yesterday.

But Dr. Coglin says the safety of patients has always been its priority.
The meeting passed a motion allowing the Devonport City Council to organise a meeting with key stakeholders to discuss the next step in the campaign to reverse the decision
Health Minister confronts Mersey Hospital workers Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News March 29, 2004

Mar 2004 A pre-determined agenda and secret report

Liberal Health spokeswoman Sue Napier said she was extremely concerned by reports that several obstetricians were interested in working at the Mersey -- with only one being offered a contract to work in Burnie.
Mrs Napier said these reports only heightened her concerns that the decision to downgrade the Mersey was part of a pre-determined State Government-Healthscope agenda and followed the completion of a secret departmental report some seven months ago.
Recruitment action concern Hobart Mercury March 30, 2004

Apr 2003 New lobby group

A NEW lobby group aimed at saving services at the Mersey Community Hospital is calling for an urgent meeting with Tasmanian government heads.
"Our direction is for a total return of services to the Mersey as was contracted, promised and guaranteed by the government and Healthscope," Mr Martin said.

"We will also be pushing the Government on the issue of the contract with Healthscope as to disclosure of its contents and its penalties in regard to non-performance of providing services."
Meanwhile, the Tasmanian Greens are calling for the Government to disclose whether the underlying reason for a reduction of obstetric and emergency services was due to an administrative decision to stem cost losses.
He said Healthscope had specialist staff in other hospitals and if there was a genuine commitment by both the company and the Government to address community concerns over long-term access to services, it would be a demonstration of good faith for an interim rotation system to be implemented.
Hospital cutbacks put lives at risk, says lobby group Mersey plea to Government Hobart Mercury April 2, 2004

Apr 2004 The profit motive

A SUPPORT group lobbying to return services at the Mersey Community Hospital says the bottom line of hospital operator Healthscope is at the centre of cutbacks.

Support group chairman Steve Martin said yesterday a meeting with Health Minister David Llewellyn had shown profit motivated the changes at the Latrobe hospital.
"This hospital has been there 100 years caring for the people of the Mersey. We own the hospital, not Healthscope or the Government," he said.
Hospital support group on the attack Hobart Mercury April 9, 2004

Apr 2004 Another public meeting

CALLS for the resignations of Health Minister David Llewellyn and local MHA Brenton Best dominated an emergency meeting at Devonport yesterday.

The Mersey Community Hospital Support Group called the meeting, which attracted about 350 people, to discuss downgrading of the hospital.
(Local resident) "All I can say to the Government is that we put you in, and by jumping kangaroos, we can put you out."
Call for heads in Mersey row Hobart Mercury April 16, 2004

Apr 2004 All groups pull together

Mr Martin said the lobby group would work with specialists at the hospital and nurses in pressuring the Government and hospital operator Healthscope for changes.
Protest pulls back covers over services Hobart Mercury April 19, 2004

Apr 2004 All groups pull together

Mersey Community Hospital support group spokesman Steve Martin said the united stand yesterday had the backing of doctors, nurses, support staff, local government and the community.
Staff and community united over hospital
Hobart Mercury April 23, 2004


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Hospital Doctors take on this "Conspiracy"

The specialists at the hospital took up the battle going on strike. If anyone should have been concerned about the risks to patients or that they were unable to cope then it was these specialists. Their action and the comments by the obstetrician involved expose Healthscope's justifications as opportunistic and self serving.

The specialists thought they had secured concessions from Healthscope. Instead the company turned tough and forced them back to work using the Industrial Commission. The doctors continued the battle and threatened to appeal to the supreme court and to the federal government. This was a company that boasted of its good relations with doctors.

Apr 2004 Specialists think the company has backed down

SPECIALISTS at the Mersey Community Hospital will strike tonight unless all services to the hospital are restored.

They have gone out on a limb as the watchdog for services to avoid what their leader says is a case of the hospital structure falling apart.

The doctors had a win yesterday as the hospital operator, Healthscope, gave a commitment to restore accident and emergency services within a week.

Philip Lamont, director of surgery at the Latrobe hospital, said the specialists had also had a win on pediatrician Dr. Evelyn Funk, who has been offered a full contract.

"Five minutes before our meeting tonight they gave in on accident and emergency, which will be restored in the next six to seven days," Mr Lamont said.
"We could understand [cutting] obstetrics to some extent, but when it got to pediatrics we suddenly realised what was happening. It's a cascading effect," he said.

"We suddenly saw our hospital structure falling apart, and it was far more wide ranging than we were told to begin with.
Mersey Hospital to restore accident, emergency services, but . . . Doctors threaten strike Hobart Mercury April 14, 2004

Apr 2004 Strike action

Pressure is continuing to mount on the operator of the Mersey Hospital at Latrobe, in northern Tasmania, to fully restore emergency and obstetric services.

A community rally will be held in Devonport today, while health and community services members will also meet to decide on whether to join doctors in taking industrial action.

From midnight AEST last night, doctors at the Mersey Hospital implemented industrial action, cancelling elective surgery and refusing to charge private patients, in a bid to restore full emergency and obstetric services.
Doctors take action over Mersey Hospital services Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News April 15, 2004

Apr 2004 Healthscope reneges

(Dr. Coglin) "The suggestion that somehow financial pressure will prompt a change is wrong. This is not about money, and no threat from the doctors will deflect us from providing safe patient care."
He (Dr. Lamont) said doctors had been given the impression they were making ground, but the backflip had ensured the strike would go ahead.
Opposition health spokeswoman Sue Napier said the apparent rejection of an offer by doctors (to staff emergency themselves) at the Mersey was disappointing and demanded an explanation.

"Given that we had been led to believe that accident and emergency services would be restored within a week, it is extremely disappointing to discover that the truth is that Healthscope was not prepared to budge even an inch," Mrs Napier (Opposition MP) said.
Five North-West councils joined forces yesterday to demand the immediate reinstatement of full hospital and medical services at the Mersey.
Medicos act as confusion reigns over hospital services pact Mersey doctors on strike Hobart Mercury April 15, 2004

Apr 2004 The industrial commission - obstetrics restored

- - - - - and striking doctors at the Mersey Community Hospital will be back at work on Monday.

The two disputes, which threatened to disrupt the state's health services, were resolved yesterday in separate hearings in the Tasmanian Industrial Commission.
Mersey specialists will halt their ban on private work at 5pm on Monday after hospital operator Healthscope agreed to obstetrics services being restored.
Health services stoppages averted Hobart Mercury April 17, 2004

Apr 2004 Healthscope gets tough

The unprecedented industrial action by doctors at the Mersey has also spoken volumes and looked as though it had forced a breakthrough earlier in the week.

But Healthscope denied it would allow the specialists to provide support to resume 24-hour accident and emergency services.

The hospital operator upped the ante on Friday when it took four prominent specialists at the head of the action before the Industrial Commission.
Next step in debate Sunday Tasmanian April 18, 2004

Apr 2004 Specialists fight on

Mr Lamont (director of surgery) plans to write to Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott and request a Commonwealth investigation into issues surrounding Healthscope's contract.
Fed Govt urged to fix Mersey hospital problems Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News April 19, 2004

Apr 2004 Legal action

SPECIALISTS at the Mersey Community Hospital say Health Minister David Llewellyn should resign as they plan legal action.

The four doctors will return to the Tasmanian Industrial Commission this morning after they say an agreement to end a strike was breached.
The specialists say a decision to withhold the report by Dr. Cameron was outside the agreement made at the Commission last Friday.
"We offered to staff emergency, but they have the audacity to refuse," Mr Lamont said.
Mersey doctors call for Llewellyn to resign Hobart Mercury April 20, 2004

Apr 2004 The Industrial Commission again

Specialists at the Mersey yesterday appeared before the Tasmanian Industrial Commission, claiming an agreement reached on Friday had been breached.

Healthscope chief medical officer Dr. Michael Coglin said the result was as he predicted and "totally futile".
Doctors fail in tactic for services Hobart Mercury April 21, 2004

Apr 2004 Fight escalates

DOCTORS at Latrobe's Mersey Community Hospital will take their fight to restore services to the Supreme Court.

Director of surgery Philip Lamont said yesterday that a Supreme Court injunction to return emergency and obstetric services was a matter of urgency.

The specialists have led the charge to return services suspended a month ago by hospital operator Healthscope amid concerns about safety.
Doctors take battle to court Hobart Mercury April 22, 2004

Apr 2004 Obstetrician joins the fray

MERSEY Community Hospital's only remaining obstetrician says he hopes sanity will prevail when a report on the future of the hospital is released today.

Michael Saunders was part of a united show at the hospital yesterday, in an attempt to see services restored.
Staff and community united over hospital Hobart Mercury April 23, 2004



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And Nursing Staff

The nursing staff were the first to worry about Healthscope after they took over the hospital. They took action again in 2004 in regard to the uncertainty about the hospital. Even Healthscope must have noticed that it was unwelcome.

Apr 2004 Nurses meet

Australian Nursing Federation branch secretary Neroli Ellis said a meeting of nurses at the Mersey yesterday had pledged to keep fighting.
Call for heads in Mersey row Hobart Mercury April 16, 2004

Apr 2004 Industrial action?

The hospital's nurses are considering their own industrial action over the Government's decision to delay its announcement on the future of the hospital.
Fed Govt urged to fix Mersey hospital problems Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News April 19, 2004

Apr 2004 Industrial action

Meanwhile, nurses at the Mersey yesterday unanimously voted to put in place non-nursing duty bans to express their anger at the lack of action on the Mersey.
Australian Nursing Federation branch secretary Neroli Ellis said about 40 members met yesterday and were very angry about the delay and non-disclosure of the Cameron Report.
"They voted unanimously to put in non-nursing duty bans from midnight tomorrow," Ms Ellis said.

The bans include not wearing Healthscope uniforms, as a show of no-confidence in the hospital operator.
Mersey doctors call for Llewellyn to resign Hobart Mercury April 20, 2004


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Political Attack

This was a wonderful opportunity for the opposition parties to show that they were representing citizens. They took up the issue and waded into the debate, collecting information, and embarrassing the government with their revelations.


Apr 2004 State parliament

LABOR faced sustained attacks in State Parliament yesterday on its handling of services at the Mersey Community Hospital, and Health Minister David Llewellyn survived a vote of no confidence.
Greens leader Peg Putt repeatedly called for the Government to release the Cameron report into the future of hospital services at the Mersey.

The Government has had the report since last Wednesday but is refusing to release it until Friday, when it plans to meet North-West mayors and discuss it with them.

A formal motion calling for the Government to immediately table the report failed.
Earlier in the day, Premier Paul Lennon was grilled on the Mersey issue, repeatedly questioned on whether the operator of the hospital, Healthscope, was in breach of its contract and what legal action the Government had considered.

Mr Lennon did not directly answer the question but later said it would be a "no-brainer" for his Government to have a protracted legal battle with Healthscope.
Labor under siege in hospital battle Hobart Mercury April 21, 2004

Apr 2004 State parliament

The Tasmanian Opposition has accused the State Government of fiddling the contract with health provider Healthscope to enable it to downgrade services at the Mersey Community Hospital.
Oppn questions Mersey hospital contract details Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News April 21, 2004



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Consequences for Services

In circumstances like this staff become angry and disillusioned. They see their future as threatened so disengage and start looking for opportunities elsewhere. This must impact on care even if they deny it.

Apr 2004 Staff discontent

Michael Saunders (hospital obstetrician)
"What worries me is that people are not enjoying their work here.

"People are still being well looked after, but there is a big difference between that and enjoying your work."

He said yesterday's show of unity should send a strong message to the Government.
Staff and community united over hospital
Hobart Mercury April 23, 2004



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The Government Gives Way
well halfway

By now it was clear that Healthscope's retention of the contract was untenable. They had upset the entire community and the hospital staff. No one would trust them now. The government bit the bullet and decided to take the hospital back. Healthscope could not give it back fast enough and was soon pressing the government to tack it back sooner than planned. The government had also destroyed any trust and it is clear that they still planned to downgrade Mersey and expand services in Burnie.

Apr 24 Labour takes back the hospital

PREMIER Paul Lennon last night promised to take back control of the beleaguered Mersey Community Hospital.

The takeover is part of a $16 million rescue package for health in the North-West.

While a deal is yet to be finalised, hospital owner Healthscope has agreed to return control to the Government.

Health Minister David Llewellyn denied it was a godsend for Healthscope, allowing it to walk away from the site which it admitted could not make a profit.
On top of the hospital package, which includes attracting six new doctors to the region, the Government will also provide a major boost to ambulance services in the region.
Mr Lennon said the extra $16 million over four years was only the beginning of health plans for the region.
Advertisements will be placed as soon as possible, with four emergency specialists at the Mersey and one for the North West Regional, as well as an obstetrician.
Mersey act State takes over troubled hospital State in hospital takeover Hobart Mercury April 24, 2004

Apr 2004 Doubts

"We don't think the package is what we've been seeking from the Government, which is a full return of services to the Mersey and longevity of those services," Mr Martin said.

He described the funding package as vague, non-committal and confusing.
"Within a year of buying out the previous operator, Mayne Health, Healthscope are now apparently able to walk away from their obligations at the Mersey without any penalty," Mr Morris said.

He said there were many unresolved questions regarding Healthscope's behaviour.

"The Government must come clean on whether a breach of contract had occurred," he said.

Health and Community Services Union state secretary Chris Brown said the union was concerned about the hospital's long-term future.
"Mr Lennon's statement that only day surgery and routine elective surgery would be done at Mersey, and that big operations would be done at other hospitals, suggests a rationalisation of services at the Mersey is still a possibility," Mr Brown said.
Mersey rescue fears Supporters doubt full return of hospital services
Sunday Tasmanian April 25, 2004

Apr 2004 Termination terms

Apart from equipment and staffing costs no money will exchange hands when the Tasmanian Government takes over the running of the Mersey Community Hospital from the private operator, Healthscope.

Healthscope's chief medical officer Doctor Michael Coglin says Healthscope is happy with the terms of the contract termination but says it is a disappointing end.
Mersey hospital operator fires parting shot Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News April 25, 2004

Apr 2004 Date set for March 2005

Healthscope Ltd today said the Tasmanian Government intended to terminate the services agreement between Healthscope and the Crown in regards to Mersey Community Hospital, to be effective March 31 2005.
(AEHSP) Tasmania to end agreement with Healthscope Australian Business News April 26, 2004

Apr 2004 Termination terms

THE State Government and hospital operator Healthscope have walked away from a deal worth almost $140 million over the next seven years.

The service agreement to provide public hospital services at the Mersey Community Hospital was worth up to $20 million a year.

The agreement, terminated by mutual agreement on Friday, was not due to end until 2010.
Healthscope's chief medical officer Michael Coglin said yesterday there would be no penalty levelled against the company and it would not get compensation.
Hospital deal ditches $140m Mersey dash for cash ends funding plan Hobart Mercury April 27, 2004

May 2004 Another closure mooted

The Health and Community Services Union in Tasmania is concerned the Mersey Community Hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) could close.
The union's state secretary, Chris Brown, says information they have obtained about how services will be divided up between the region's hospitals suggests a bleak future for the Mersey's intensive care unit.
A spokesman for the Health Minister, David Llewellyn says there are no plans to close the intensive care unit.
Concerns Mersey Hospital's ICU could close Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News May 4, 2004


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Problems Fixed then Recur

The Mersey hospital was losing Healthscope about $3 million a year. The market knew this and when it was all over Healthscope admitted it. Healthscope was still negotiating the termination. It wanted the government to take back the hospital much earlier - in September 2004.

Aug 2004 Losses at Mersey

HSP has incurred significant losses in an attempt to comply with this service contract. The Department of Health has now agreed to terminate the service agreement with HSP and transfer the operations of the hospital to the State. This will improve the operating performance of HSP in FY05.
Your Money Weekly August 27, 2004

Aug 2004 Termination wanted 6 months earlier than planned

The operator of the Mersey Community Hospital in Tasmania's north-west says it would prefer to return control of the hospital to the State Government at the end of next month.
Healthscope chief medical officer Dr. Michael Coglin says a number of issues arising at the hospital on a day-to-day basis were difficult to deal with while the company was in caretaker mode.
Healthscope seeks early hospital handover Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News August 30, 2004

Oct 2004 Healthscope admits it

The integration process (of Mayne hospitals) was successfully accomplished and all hospitals (except Mersey) performed to expectations. The Mersey Community Hospital, which had been loss making under the Mayne Management, - - - - - - . Its performance had a significant negative impact on the results for the year - - - - - .
Chairman's statement Annual Report October 2004

Problems in the hospital seemed to be rapidly fixed after the initial agreement but then soon recurred as government delayed. Was Healthscope pressing the government? Was the government softening the public for its future downgrading? Were one or both of these parties exploiting the situation or was it all real and unavoidable? Were doctors leaving out of disillusionment because they were aware of future plans to downgrade? Healthscope was losing money all the time. It is difficult not to conclude that patients, the staff and the community were now and had been victims of a power play between government and Healthscope all along - a power play about profit and losses. Patients and the community were caught in a similar power play between Healthscope and Insurer BUPA in South Australia. This is the marketplace - a corporate battle ground. There is plenty of collateral damage and the victims are all of us.

May 2004 Emergency services back

EMERGENCY services at the troubled Mersey Community Hospital have returned to normal with a 24-hour roster resuming yesterday.

The change comes just over a week after the State Government announced it would resume control of the hospital from private operator Healthscope.
Mersey services back on track Hobart Mercury May 4, 2004

May 2004 Obstetric services back

MOTHERS in the Mersey region were able to return to the Mersey Community Hospital yesterday as full obstetrics services resumed.

The services were cut almost two months ago because of a lack of specialists.
Mums welcome return of obstetric services Mersey back delivering Hobart Mercury May 11, 2004

June 2004 More closures threatened

Mr Llewellyn said Healthscope had advised that staffing difficulties meant it might be forced to reinstate overnight ambulance bypass from mid-July.
"That the State Government would even contemplate this seems to support the concerns that I am hearing increasingly from the North-West that despite the State Government's grandstanding, the future of the Mersey is not as rosy as the community has been led to believe," she (Sue Napier - politician) said.

"There are still grave doubts about the future of ICU services at the Mersey and critical staff shortages still have not been addressed."
Cutbacks loom again in Mersey emergency Hobart Mercury June 24, 2004

July 2004 Surgery canceled

Staff shortages have forced the Mersey Community Hospital in northern Tasmania to put off general surgery this weekend.

The hospital's operator, Healthscope, says all patients requiring general surgery will be transported to Burnie.
Mersey staff shortages force surgery shutdown Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News July 24, 2004

July 2004 Doctors resign

Another physician has resigned, leaving the north-west hospital with one full-time and one part-time physician to treat all public in-patients.
"The only choice we will have left is to refuse admission to patients who actually do need acute hospital care," he said.
Healthscope chief medical officer Dr. Michael Coglin says while they are doing their best to attract more doctors, the turmoil within the hospital would best be addressed if the Government takes it over soon.
Fears held for patients' health if specialist vacancy not filled Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News July 30, 2004

July 2004 Government waves the contract

The Tasmanian Government says the company that runs the Mersey Community Hospital in Tasmania's north-west is obliged to keep a full team of doctors in accordance with its contract.

Another physician, Jorge Do Campo, resigned yesterday, leaving the hospital with one full-time and one part-time physician to treat all public in-patients.

Health Minister David Llewellyn says if Healthscope wants a speedy transition of the hospital from private back to public ownership, it needs to maintain a full complement of specialists.
Hospital owner pushed to replace doctors Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News July 30, 2004

July 2004 Healthscope responds - take it back sooner - September

THE Mersey Community Hospital administration says the sooner the hospital is transferred back to State Government ownership the better.

Healthscope Ltd chief medical officer Michael Coglin said staff morale was very low and doctor shortages would continue while the hospital's future was up in the air.
However, Dr. Coglin said yesterday with commitment, effort and goodwill the transfer could be achieved by the end of September.

Health and Human Services Minister David Llewellyn said the transfer was a complex project.
The crisis follows the cancellation of non-urgent elective surgery earlier this week due to a shortage of specialist anaesthetists.
Crisis hospital's administration desperate to revert to state hands Mersey's quick-change call
Hobart Mercury July 31, 2004

Aug 2004 Agree to November

THE State Government hopes to take control of the Mersey Community Hospital by the end of November -- four months ahead of schedule.
November goal set for Mersey Hobart Mercury August 9, 2004

September 2004 Normal services resume

The Mersey Community Hospital in Tasmania's north-west has returned to its regular operational levels.

The operator, Healthscope, temporarily closed 16 beds earlier this week because of a reduction in non-emergency surgery, linked to a shortage of anaesthetists and the school holidays.
Business as usual at Mersey hospital
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News September 9, 2004


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Employee Safety

Healthscope's reports boast of its record for staff safety and the awards it has won. A dispute with the nurses during this second period of cost cutting and downsizing is about the safety of nurses and patients due to understaffing. One nurse was alone in the emergency department and vulnerable.

Oct 2004 Employee safety

The Company has a zero tolerance for injuries and will continue to allocate resources to ensure staff safety.
Chairman's statement Annual Report October 2004

Aug 2004 More problems at Mersey

NURSES at the Mersey Community Hospital are set to strike today over concerns about staffing levels in the emergency department.

Hospital operator Healthscope says it will not give in to demands for an extra nurse on night shifts.
Concerns about staffing levels centre on night shifts where, for three nights a week, there is only one emergency nurse rostered for duty.
"Members are at the end of their tether, but this doesn't seem to be a big concern to Healthscope."
ANF acting branch secretary Agnes Stanislaus-Large said nurses had raised the issues with management on many occasions.
"If we are to move to a speedy transition from private to public ownership then we need their full co-operation to ensure that we have all staff positions appropriately filled and their contract honoured," Mr Llewellyn said.
Mersey nurses set to strike
Hobart Mercury August 17, 2004

Aug 2004 Nurses' safety

"They (unions) feel management have reneged on an agreement to have two nurses on night shift in emergency.
Nurse staffing dispute goes to umpire today Hobart Mercury August 18, 2004

Aug 2004 Dispute resolution

Unions and the hospital operator, Healthscope, thrashed out a resolution to the looming strike in the State Industrial Commission in Launceston yesterday.
He said the resolution included an increase in night shift staff and a range of measures to ensure staff safety.
The Australian Nursing Federation said concerns were first raised in November last year and nurses were worried about patient care and their own occupational health and safety.
Resolution plan for nurses' row Hobart Mercury August 19, 2004

Aug 20 outcome

The nurses agreed to try out hospital operator Healthscope's proposal to extend to four nights a two-nurse shift in the emergency department.

On the remaining three nights, a nurse and an attendant will be rostered.
Nurses postpone strike after shift change
Hobart Mercury August 20, 2004


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The Government's Plans Emerge

Two hospitals working together, sharing staff and splitting some key more complex care may be the best solution to staffing problems and to costs. The introduction of a profit first entity, support of Healthscope by the government, secrecy and less than frank statements have made everyone suspicious and distrusting - a market phenomenon. The potential for a rational debate has been destroyed by the profit first context and by the gross ineptitude of those who should have known better. Government and Healthscope operated within a commercial and managerial framework which was anathema to health care providers and the public. The government is still implementing its plans without involving the community.

Aug 2004 Government plans

"The State Government is determined to move forward quickly its plan to establish a two-campus public hospital system on the North-West Coast.

"With progress also being made on our plans for improved ambulance services, the $16 million North-West health package is now taking shape."

Dr. Coglin yesterday welcomed the Government's new timetable, saying the sooner the transition happened the better.
November goal set for Mersey Hobart Mercury August 9, 2004

Aug 2004 Government plans

A SINGLE hospital on two campuses in the North-West must be given a chance, says Health Minister David Llewellyn.
The mayors say a single hospital may be the best long-term option for the region, but want an in-depth study to prove its worth.

But Mr Llewellyn says the transition to a single hospital on two campuses -- in Burnie and Latrobe -- must be given a chance.
He wants the Mersey transition to bed down but admits there are issues over the lease on the North-West Regional Hospital in Burnie, due to expire in 2010.
One hospital, two campuses Llewellyn seeks to take the long view Hobart Mercury August 10, 2004

Oct 2004 More downsizing and uncertainty

The State Opposition and Mersey Community Hospital Support Group have raised questions about the future of urology and respiratory sleep studies at the hospital.

Support group chairman Steve Martin said specialists had been told support for the services had been withdrawn.
Spokesman Stewart Prins said no decisions had been made about future arrangements after the transition stage.
Mr Rockliff said North-West people were sick of the continued uncertainty surrounding their health services and fed up with being treated like second-class citizens.
Mersey support queried Hobart Mercury October 6, 2004



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But the Citizens Win
well maybe!

Finally the government came forward with a package to fix the problems and provide the services demanded by the community. One wonders if this had anything to do with advanced knowledge of a report from the productivity commission released publicly a couple of months later.


Nov 2004 Government backs down

A RESCUE package worth $43.5 million will be poured into the Mersey Community Hospital at Latrobe ready for its return to public hands.

It also signals the death for any plans to build a new base hospital to service the North-West Coast.

The State Government will take over the hospital from December 1, part of a major bail-out for health services in the region.
The rescue package will see more than 50 new staff at the hospital, including eight doctors and up to 15 nurses.

Mr Llewellyn also guaranteed all public services including intensive care, emergency and obstetrics.
"Now that the future of the Mersey is secured, we can get on with planning for a whole-of-region health system that avoids crisis and uncertainty and delivers services we can rely on in the future," he said.
$43.5m rescue package for ailing NW hospital Hobart Mercury November 3, 2004

Dec 2004 Government takes back hospital

PEOPLE power was the winner of yesterday's return of the Mersey Community Hospital to the public system, a lobby group said.

Mersey Community Hospital Support Group chairman Steve Martin said the handover from private operator Healthscope was a credit to the Merseysiders who fought for the hospital.
Delight over hospital move Hobart Mercury December 2, 2004

Jan 2005 Damning report on Tasmania's public hospitals

TASMANIA'S public hospitals are failing to provide timely care to critically ill patients.

Shocking new figures show one in 10 critically ill patients did not get the immediate attention they required.

A staggering 45 per cent of patients requiring treatment within 10 minutes were not attended to within acceptable time.

And Tasmanians were waiting longer for elective surgery than anyone else.

The damning statistics are contained within the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services 2005, which compares the performances of public hospitals across Australia.
Tassie patient shame Care figures nation's worst Hobart Mercury January 28, 2005

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Web Page History
This page created May 2005 by
Michael Wynne