FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE USE
NSW Premier shifts responsibility for RNSH land sale “mess” back to Health Minister while Campus Master Plan remains MIA
The NSW Premier has this week hand-balled responsibility for divestment of the Royal North Shore Hospital’s (RNSH) southern campus back to his Health Minister, despite her previously informing senior hospital clinicians that the Treasurer was driving the process. Meanwhile, the elusive Campus Master Plan, which promises to seal the hospital’s fate, has been reported missing.
Following Minister Skinner’s allegation that the 700-page Campus Master Plan was “too technical” for senior members of the RNSH Medical Staff Council (MSC) to comprehend on October 17, 2014, the hospital executive is still yet to produce the document, despite multiple requests for such by the MSC.
Representatives of RNSH MSC handed over a 12,700-strong ‘People’s Petition’ opposing the sale or long-term lease of RNSH land to Greens NSW MP, Dr John Kaye, on the steps of NSW Parliament House last week. After later requesting to meet with the Premier, Mr Baird declined, forcing the clinicians to meet, for a second time, with Minister Skinner at her ministerial office next Monday, December 1 at 1pm to re-voice their concerns. At the previous meeting, the Minister indicated the process was out of her hands and that Treasury expected to generate $97 million from the proposed land sale.
According to Dr Adam Rehak, Chair, RNSH Medical Staff Council and Anaesthetist, RNSH, Sydney, hospital staff and the community are being treated with complete disrespect regarding this issue, for no member of the MSC has ever sighted a final copy of the Campus Master Plan, despite their contribution to its development in 2011 to 2012, nor is the document available to the public.
“We’re being told that senior RNSH medical staff ‘signed off’ on a Campus Master Plan in 2012.
“The only thing we “signed off” on was a simple zoning exercise summarised in 16 pages, of which the sale of land is not once described,” said Dr Rehak.
“We only recently learned that the government had commenced an ‘Expressions of Interest’ (EOI) process with private developers to purchase or obtain, on a 99-year lease, the southern campus precinct (Zone 8), and that the NSW government’s plans to recoup $97 million from this land sale,” Dr Rehak said.
“We are being black-mailed, with the government stating we won’t receive critical services on the campus unless the sale proceeds.
“To make matters worse, the government is now playing tag with us, shifting responsibility for the divestment from one office to another. We’re now ‘IT’ and will soon be held responsible for a fake final sign-off,” said Dr Rehak.
“Not only have there been no MSC signatures on the Campus Master Plan, but not one of our members is yet to lay eyes on this elusive document, which apparently is too complicated for medical doctors to comprehend.
“When we meet with Minister Skinner next Monday, we will again request a copy of this document. Should the document clearly describe a land sale, this would genuinely represent a comprehensive cover-up, with the intent to sell the land deliberately hidden from hospital staff and the broader community,” Dr Rehak said.
For the past three months, RNSH staff have been calling on the Government to cease the planned divestment of their southern campus land and to preserve the land for future use, solely for the benefit of the hospital, its patients, visitors and the community at large.
Happily married father-of-two and grandfather-of-two, David, 86, living with post-polio syndrome, has been a regular visitor to RNSH since 1953. He is vehemently opposed to the sale of RNSH campus land, describing the move as very “short-sighted.”
“The good thing about owning the land is that buildings can be knocked down and re-built when required. I am dead against any divestment of hospital land, in case there’s a need to re-build. You can’t re-build the hospital if the land belongs to someone else.
“It seems the Baird government only sees dollar signs, and isn’t genuinely considering the history of the hospital, and how it was originally donated to the people of the Lower North Shore, or even the services that the hospital offers,” said David.
“This is a hospital used by one-in-17 Australians, and in my opinion, it is absolutely abhorrent what the government is doing.”
The Chair of the Board of the Local Health District recently informed the MSC that the future redevelopment of the land tabled to be sold will not proceed without the sale of Zone 8, and that the hospital would not receive childcare, accommodation for out-of-town patients and their families, or Tresillian care in Zone 8 of the RNSH campus, should RNSH staff not agree to the sale of Zone 8.
“If the land is sold, the Department of Health has guaranteed themselves tenancy of the new multi-storey office building, providing ongoing revenue to the successful developer, should this proceed,” Dr Rehak said.
RNSH is a major referral hospital for trauma, spinal injuries and burns across NSW and currently serves 1-in-17 Australians and 1-in-6 people from NSW. The hospital, founded in 1885 by the people, for the people, currently employs 5,000 staff within the medical, surgical, nursing, research, allied health and support service departments. Since establishment, the role of the hospital and the patients for whom it cares, has dramatically changed. Furthermore, the rapidly growing population is resulting in a year-on-year increase in emergency department presentations and hospital admissions (10 per cent and 5 per cent per annum, respectively).
“For the hospital to grow, it needs land to grow into. The incumbent government’s decision to divest, by sale or long-term lease, almost 1 hectare of prime real estate of the southern part of the RNSH campus to the private sector for commercial purposes, makes no sense,” said Dr Tony Joseph, Senior Emergency Physician and Director of Trauma, RNSH.
“RNSH is one of the busiest major referral hospitals in NSW and receives patients from all parts of the state for treatment of spinal injuries, burns and major trauma, as well as other serious medical and surgical conditions. No other tertiary referral hospital in NSW has been required to sell land so that services essential to the hospital, such as staff child care and accommodation for patient families from rural and remote regions of NSW, can be provided.
“It is unclear why the NSW Government has singled out RNSH for special attention,” Dr Joseph said.
“We are not just a local and referral hospital for the people of Northern Sydney, but also the Central Coast, Northern NSW and the rest of the state for Spinal injuries, major Burns and Trauma patients.
“RNSH also provides tertiary services in Hand surgery, Plastic and Reconstructive surgery, Neurosurgery, Stroke, high risk Pregnancy and Neonatal services, as well as many other specialist medical and surgical services,” said Dr Joseph.
“The demand for services provided by the hospital continues to grow on an annual basis, and selling any land will seriously impede the hospital’s potential for future expansion. This decision will not be viewed favourably by future generations.”
This ongoing community concern for the hospital follows a 15,000-strong petition against the land sale in 2011 and an ensuing march on NSW Parliament, which led to the NSW Minister of Health, The Hon. Jillian Skinner MP, placing a moratorium on the sale.
“It is time for the government to stop selling public land and privatising everything and to take responsibility for core community needs, such as healthcare, both now and well into the future,” Dr Joseph said.
Responding to Mrs Skinner’s requests in 2011, hospital clinicians worked closely with health administrators to produce a Campus Master Plan, subsequently endorsed by the Minister in 2012. The sale or long-term lease of the Southern Campus did not appear on this version of the Draft Campus Master Plan.
“This decision clearly departs from the Campus Master Plan. We worked on this plan for almost three years, and not once had the divestment of land been discussed,” Dr Joseph said.
“We were aware there may be ‘commercial opportunities’ for that part of the campus, but sale or long-term lease was never discussed.
“The first we heard was an announcement that the “Expressions of Interest” process had commenced and the Ministry of Health were moving in,” said Dr Joseph.
“A sale or long-term lease of land means critical services, such as childcare and carer accommodation would be built, owned and contracted to a third party provider, and not under the control of the hospital. We believe these services should be owned and controlled by the Local Health District. More importantly, if sold, that part of the campus will never be available when there comes the time to expand or rebuild the hospital.”
The RNSH MSC staff is amenable to exploring commercial opportunities on the campus, on the proviso they prove directly beneficial to the hospital and community at large.
“We have demonstrated a willingness to work closely with the Local Health District and the government to achieve the best outcomes for the hospital. Importantly, we are not completely opposed to a development of sorts on the southern campus. But we are definitely opposed to any sale of the land or a 99 year lease,” said Dr Joseph..
RNSH is a leading tertiary teaching hospital of The University of Sydney (Medicine, Allied Health), University of Technology, Sydney (Nursing) and Australian Catholic University (Nursing). RNSH is a NSW Major Trauma Centre and provides State-wide services for severe burns and spinal cord injury, as well as neonatal intensive care, hand surgery and interventional radiology. The Kolling Institute of Medical Research within RNSH is a Health and Medical Research Centre with a focus on both clinical and laboratory research. RNSH was established in 1885 to service the Mosman, Willoughby, Lane Cove and North Sydney communities. Since then, the hospital has grown exponentially to provide specialist medical services to 1-in-6 people within NSW and 1-in-17 Australians. There are currently 5,000 staff within the medical, surgical, nursing, research, allied health and support service departments employed at RNSH.
To help save RNSH, or to learn more, head to www.save.rnsh.org.