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Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

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Issue #1514      17 August 2011

SERCO adds Fiona Stanley Hospital to its WA money making ventures

Most people in Western Australia, in particular workers in the public hospital system, have known for over a year that their newest and largest hospital would be awarding a contract to a private corporation to run its support services, buildings and facilities.

This was confirmed by the Health Minister Dr Kim Hames on August 2 when he announced that SERCO had been awarded the $4.3 billion 20-year contract for the Fiona Stanley Hospital.

The announcement had been preceded by an extensive advertising campaign commencing in early July 2011, run by SERCO in the print media and on You Tube with the tagline of “living, thinking and acting locally”. The campaign attempted to portray SERCO as a benevolent corporation where its private employees were friendlier and more service-oriented than public sector workers.

SERCO runs all the immigration detention centres in Australia, including Villawood, Curtin (in the Kimberley region near Derby) and the notorious Christmas Island facility, and provides services on the Indian Pacific railway.

In June 2011 it took over the $210 million prison transport and court custodial services contract from rival G4S. It has come under scrutiny for the riots and other acts of desperation which drive immigration detainees to resist their handlers.

The services which SERCO will run at the new Fiona Stanley Hospital include many that are currently provided by public servants at other public hospitals which are more transparent and accountable to parliament and therefore the people.

Services at the Fiona Stanley Hospital will be scheduled and billed every time they are used. These include hospital cleaning, all services usually provided by Personal Care Assistants, health records, patient transport and the scheduling and billing service itself – similar to a Public Private Partnership.

This commercially based system often overlooks why hospitals exist in the first place – to look after people who are sick or injured and for them to leave when they are in a condition to do so.

The union representing public servants who currently provide these services in public hospitals, United Voice, understands this all too well. Some of the workers can remember when in 1995 hospital cleaning was privatised but later brought back in-house. There were outbreaks of a number of superbug antibiotic resistant diseases such as VRE and MRSA in hospitals as the contractors in their push to make a profit decided to reduce the number of times wards in a hospital would be cleaned.

United Voice state secretary Dave Kelly responded on the day of the announcement of SERCO had been awarded the contract at a stopwork meeting at Royal Perth Hospital. He said that workers will tackle the state government’s hospital privatisation plans, “hospital by hospital, ward by ward.”

The Health Services Union (HSU) which represents administrative and clerical workers employed in public hospitals has thrown its weight behind United Voices campaign, calling on the state government to publicly release details of the SERCO deal.

The Health Minister Kim Hames asserted that the contract could be terminated at any point if SERCO was found to be failing its Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) HSU secretary Dan Hill noted that many of the KPIs were subject to commercial in-confidence agreements and were therefore outside of the type of transparency and accountability provisions that applied to public hospitals.

The privatisation of hospital services in Western Australia will extend beyond Fiona Stanley Hospital when the Midland Health Campus replaces the aging Swan Districts Hospital. It will also become part of the process whereby the public health needs of ordinary people become a rich source of profits for private corporations.

However, as noted by United Voice’s Dave Kelly, most people in Western Australia have consistently responded to feedback on privatisation of public hospitals to say that they prefer to be looked after in a public hospital and that public hospitals ensure that everyone has access too an affordable health service.

As the world recoiled from the latest seismic shift in financial and economic woes, especially in the US and Europe, the capitalist business-for-profit orientation was beginning to look increasingly fragile and untrustworthy.

Other unions with workers in the public sector will also be wondering what agencies or functions the Liberal government of Colin Barnett was planning on outsourcing or privatising next and preparing their members for militancy and struggle too save their jobs and communities.  

Next article – Jay Weatherill – poison chalice from the right

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