Families and community leaders in Victoria’s Sunraysia district say they are relieved to see Mildura Base Hospital (MBH) back in public hands.
But with 900 staff from the private management company kept on at the hospital under the new system, some locals fear the problems plaguing patients won’t be properly addressed.
There are now calls for the government to take further action and invest in more senior doctors.
After operating as a privatised service for more than two decades under the management of Ramsay Health Care, the hospital was on Tuesday officially handed back to the state government, marking the end of their private-public partnership.
The last of its kind in Victoria, MBH was plagued by complaints about patient care, under-qualified doctors, oppressive working conditions and overworked staff.
Now no longer under the umbrella of Ramsay Health, the hospital’s new website does not appear to contain links to any of its previous annual reports and quality of care reports.
But the worries are still firmly in the minds of the patients, families and staff.
Carol Brandrick was among almost 90 per cent of residents who said in a community survey last year that Mildura’s only publicly owned hospital should not be managed by a private operator.
Last month as the hospital was transitioning back to government management, her four-year-old grandson, Tex, was taken to MBH and the family experienced what Ms Brandrick said was nothing short of a nightmare.
Tex was struggling to breathe and needed to be admitted. But there were no available beds.
He remained in an emergency ward, during which time his oxygen saturation dropped to a level that has led Ms Brandrick to believe he “could’ve died that night”.
An astute nurse confronted the doctor after noticing Tex was not receiving the right level of care, Ms Brandrick said. After a “heated discussion”, she said, Tex was hooked up to a Ventolin pump and also given adrenaline.
His mum, Destany Wright, said she was “very confused” and “didn’t know what to believe” due to “mixed opinions from a doctor that didn’t seem to think (the low oxygen) was an issue” and the nurses.
“Once he got hooked up to the adrenaline to help open his airways, I just burst out crying because I was so overwhelmed,” Ms Wright said.
“With the low oxygen levels, the organs can start to shut down so potentially he could have had organ failure.”
After her family’s latest experience Ms Brandrick said it appeared “the new signs have gone up, the new paperwork’s been advertised” but “unless the doctors are the right doctors or are doing the right thing, we are still going to suffer the same consequences”.
Noel Pound, founder of lobby group Mildura Hospital Conversation, which long campaigned for the end to privatisation of MBH, said he was looking forward to more senior staff and specialist doctors returning to the hospital.
“It’s all about the staff,” Mr Pound said.
“I’ve had a chat with a couple of specialist doctors who only operate privately now, but they’re intending to do a bit of work over there now that’s it public.”
Local MP Ali Cupper who supported the campaign for returning the hospital to public management said she is “100 per cent confident” patients will see improvements in the quality of care.
For starters, staff will be working in a hospital no longer motivated by profit, Ms Cupper said.
Some of the operational savings that Ramsay Health Care was making will be able to be spent on equipping staff with the resources to “do their job better” and “provide a higher standard of care for patients”, she said.
The community will also be able to get access to more meaningful data about its hospital’s performance.
And if ever a complaint was lodged, the hospital and its board will “more likely treat that as an opportunity for improvement of services”, and not “shut the community member down”, she added.
Adamm Ferrier, lecturer in public health at La Trobe University, said Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services will also have a “greater say” in the running of MBH now that it is a true public hospital.
More than 900 existing employees of Ramsay Health Care have transitioned across to jobs at MBH.
In a statement, health minister Jenny Mikakos said the return of MBH to public hands was “where it should’ve always been”.
“The dedicated healthcare team at Mildura Base have done an incredible job caring for patients during this global pandemic, and we thank them for their contribution to ensuring a smooth transition to public ownership,” Ms Mikakos said.