Hospital service to continue but ward scrapped

SERVICES CONTINUE: Mount Gambier Private Hospital board announced the city’s private hospital will cease to trade on August 21 after extensive consultations.

By Raquel Mustillo

THE Mount Gambier and Districts Health Service will not include a dedicated private ward following the incorporation of the Mount Gambier Private Hospital into the state-run facility, health authorities have confirmed.

Limestone Coast Local Health Network governing board chair Grant King said while private surgical and medical services will still be available in Mount Gambier, there will not be a specified private ward within the public hospital.

Mr King said patients with private health insurance will be able to use their cover in the hospital and staff would endeavour to provide services “as best as possible in a like for like manner”.

“There won’t be a dedicated private ward, but the health service will provide private services for people in the public system,” he said.

“That’s quite common across the system.”

Earlier this week, the Mount Gambier Private Hospital board announced the 17-bed facility will cease trading as of August 21.

Shortly after the announcement, the Limestone Coast Local Health Network confirmed it would incorporate the facility into the public hospital.

Currently, patients who have private health insurance, are self-funded, or Veteran Affair cardholders have access to large single rooms and other additional benefits when admitted to the private facility.

In addition to an ensuite, private patient benefits also include free WiFi, television, Foxtel, local phone calls, newspapers, in-room fridge and tea and coffee making facilities.

In a statement, the network said the plan will ensure no impact to private services and ensure the job security of all staff, with community members still able to access the same service with their private health insurance.

“Patients using their private health insurance can still select their preferred specialist and private patients will not be charged a gap payment,” the statement said.

“We are working hard to ensure a smooth transition for patients and staff.”

Mr King said the transition plan was in its infancy, but patients with private cover will be provided with appropriate accommodation “as best as possible”.

“It’s very early days and this has come out of the blue, but this is something we are working on,” he said.

“In many respects, patients will not necessarily see any change.. but there is not going to be a sign that says ‘private ward’.”

Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell said the abolition of a private ward was a “great concern” and questioned the potential impact on health services at the city’s hospital.

“If we don’t have a private ward or a section that is private, that is of great concern to me and I’ll be seeking answers about how and if this will affect attracting specialists to our region,” he said.

“The private wards attract surgeons to the hospital and for patients with private health over, wait times are a lot less than if you are admitted through the public system.

“Not having a private ward is a development that concerns me greatly and at the moment it is very unclear how this is going to be implemented.”

Uncertainty also surrounds the circumstances leading to the closure of the private hospital, with the board citing extensive consultations as facilitating the closure.

Mount Gambier and Districts Health Advisory Council presiding member Maureen Klintberg said the group – which provides advice and undertakes an advocacy role on behalf of the community – were not involved in any discussions about the closure.

Ms Klintberg said the issue was likely to be raised at last night’s health advisory council meeting.

Last month, the private hospital board announced it had entered voluntary administration citing changes in the operating model of the Mount Gambier and Districts Health Service – the facility’s largest creditor.

The statement said over the last five years, changes in the operating model of the state-run public hospital has resulted in “operational pressures which have had a direct impact on our economic performance and long-term feasibility that we can no longer sustain”.

Neither SA Health or the private hospital board have addressed questions about changes in the operating model, whether there has been an increase in charges and the funding arrangement between the entities.