NSW Health officials have rejected suggestions the beleaguered Northern Beaches Hospital is guilty of “healthcare apartheid” by providing better care to private patients than those in the public system.
An upper house inquiry into the Frenchs Forest public-private hospital kicked off on Monday after the opposition successfully moved for the probe in June, saying the hospital had “lurched from crisis to crisis” since its 2018 opening.
The inquiry will examine the running of the hospital, including standards of service, staffing and the merits of public-private partnership arrangements in healthcare.
Reports have pointed to a litany of problems at the site, including a lack of basic medical supplies and major staffing issues.
Under questioning from shadow treasurer and former Labor health spokesman Walt Secord, NSW Health deputy secretary Nigel Lyons said the hospital was obliged to provide equal public-private care.
The health department was monitoring hospital service provider Healthscope and assisting where necessary, Dr Lyons said.
“The contractor is obligated to provide public care at the same level as we’d expect for any public hospital in NSW.
“We have very rigorous processes for assessing performance of the operator and we’ve taken a position that, yes, there will be some issues with commissioning a new hospital, and those emerged, but also we’ve worked very closely with the operator to ensure those were addressed.”
Dr Lyons said the health department’s 20-year contract with Healthscope stipulated cost “abatements” in the case of poor service provision.
Deborah Wilcox, the Northern Sydney Local Health District chief executive, told the inquiry the hospital had improved when it came to patient care since opening in October 2018, having replaced Manly and Mona Vale hospitals.
She also brushed off suggestions of sub-par public care and allegations in a Health Services Union submission that private patients were receiving hot breakfasts while public patients received cold breakfasts.
“It’s for Healthscope to operate the hospital and my job is to manage the contract,” Ms Wilcox said.
“I would be concerned if there were major differences between public and private patients. It is not a two-tiered system.
“They are required to provide a standard of care at a level that is the same level as public patients currently receive in the health system and there are a raft of new services available to the community.”
The head of the union representing NSW doctors has previously claimed the hospital was not safe for patients and junior doctors when it first opened while Premier Gladys Berejiklian also admitted to “teething problems”.