Sterilisation unit goes private: Questions answered

The review into the sterilisation services in Griffith has been completed, with the final decision confirmed for Griffith Base Hospital (GHB) to purchase services from Saint Vincent’s Private Community Hospital Griffith (SVPCHG).

Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) announced it has entered the mutually beneficial agreement to share the services of a “single viable state-of-the art sterilising unit” to avoid the duplication of services, supporting a joint health campus for the people of the Griffith region.

The agreement has an initial term of five years with the option to extend for another five years.

Economic impact

NSW Health spokesperson said the decision made “sound economic sense” for public funds to be used for the most “cost- effective and appropriate services”.

“There is little cost difference between NSW Health investing in and operating a new sterilisation unit at GBH over the next decade, versus the option to purchase services from an existing, new unit at St Vincent’s,” the spokesperson said.

The Health spokesperson said the service would cost about $560,000 per year if they went with either of the model options.

In the past Minister Hazzard said the viability of SVPCH would be in jeopardy if the service was to be given to GBH.

“What the Griffith community needs to know, is that if NSW Health were to keep its sterilisation services in–house, it places the valued SPVCHG in a very precarious financial position,” he said in a letter to the editor.

Public funds for private enterprise

“It makes sound economic sense for public funds to be used for the most cost- effective and appropriate services. There is little cost difference between NSW Health investing in and operating a new sterilisation unit at GBH over the next decade, versus the option to purchase services from an existing, new unit at St Vincent’s,” said Health spokesperson.

Minister for Murray Austin Evans said it wasn’t a matter of public money “propping up” private enterprise, but rather the sharing of services for the benefit of the community.

“I think the characterisation of SVPCHG as private enterprise is not quite correct. Yes it is a private hospital but it is performing a number of services for the community. That’s the reality of our health system in Australia –  the public and the private working together to deliver what is one of the highest standards of medical care in the world,” Mr Evans said.

When asked if the private hospital could contract out it’s sterilisation services to other businesses such as hotels, motels, restaurants and others, Saint Vincent’s declined to comment.

Patient care

While financially viable, the spokesperson also reassures there will be “no impact on any other patient service” at GBH as a result.

At present, a GBH transport vehicle is currently being used to transfer sterilised equipment from SVPCHG to GBH.

Both Member for Murray Austin Evans and Griffith City Council Mayor John Dal Broi will be making sure this tunnel or walk-way becomes a reality in the redevelopment of GBH.

“We want this walkway, and I will make sure it happens,” Cr Dal Broi confirmed.

Minister Evans said he will listen to experts on whether the walkway is a suitable option, and will actively push for the facility.

Mr Hazzard’s office confirm: “A link between the two hospitals is planned and will be suitable for the transport of sterile equipment.”

Future population growth

Chief Executive Jill Ludford said the sterilising equipment installed at SVPCHG will have the capacity for both the private hospital and GBH, using the current and projected number of patients the hospital sees.

Despite concerns population statistics are flawed in the Clinical Service Plan, the NSW Health spokesperson has reassured the community the equipment at SVPCHG has the capacity to increase services when and if demand increases from the public hospital.

MLHD says the new sterilising equipment at St Vincent’s Hospital has the capacity to support the surgical activity across both hospitals now and into the future.

“MLHD will continue working with St Vincent’s Health Australia and Griffith City Council to expand healthcare services available to people from the Griffith and surrounding communities,” Ms Ludford said.

The new sterilising equipment at St Vincent’s Hospital has the capacity to support the surgical activity across both hospitals now and into the future.

“MLHD will continue working with St Vincent’s Health Australia and Griffith City Council to expand healthcare services available to people from the Griffith and surrounding communities,” Ms Ludford said.

Current GBH staff

​The five GBH Sterilising Unit staff have been offered other employment opportunities or the option of redundancy packages if they wish.

However this has been slammed by long-time base hospital activist and doctor Dr Jayachandran Narayanan (Jaya), who said the loss of sterilisation and staff was “another nail in the GBH coffin.”

“There’s no funding available for GBH, and staff are being laid off, but there is money to pay SVCPH.  How can anyone see “good” in closure of departments. How does a person who has spent 20-30 years in a department suddenly re-train to do a different job,” Dr Jaya said.

Final comments from the MLHD

The MLHD said the shared service will see technology improvements including digital enhancements with the introduction of instrument tracking and bar coding.

“We assure the community Griffith Base Hospital will continue to provide a critical role as the public base hospital for the people of Griffith and surrounding areas, providing services including emergency and acute care, elective surgery and maternity,” she said.

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Full response to The Area New’s questions from the Ministry of Health Department:

SUBJECT: GBH STERILISING SERVICES

What was the reasoning behind the decision to have the unit at the private hospital?

The agreement avoids duplication by providing a single, viable, contemporary sterilising service. Working in collaboration with St Vincent’s Private Community Hospital Griffith (SVPCHG) increases the scope of health services available for people in Griffith and surrounding communities and provides increased opportunities for attracting specialist clinicians to the Griffith region. St Vincent’s Private Community Hospital Griffith has installed sterilising equipment with capacity for both private and public Griffith Base Hospital (GBH) activity. The service also digital enhancements with the introduction of instrument tracking and bar coding, an advancement in service standards.

Why should public funds be used to support a private enterprise?

It makes sound economic sense for public funds to be used for the most cost- effective and appropriate services. There is little cost difference between NSW Health investing in and operating a new sterilisation unit at GBH over the next decade, versus the option to purchase services from an existing, new unit at St Vincent’s.

You have previously said there is no cost difference between keeping it at the Base and moving it to the Private. What are those exact figures?

The service costs about $560,000 per year under both models.

Is there a plan for the new hospital to include a sterile walkway between the two hospitals?

A link between the two hospitals is planned and will be suitable for the transport of sterile equipment.

What is the plan from now to transport the sterilised equipment to and from SVPH to GBH?

A GBH transport vehicle is currently being used to transfer sterilised equipment from SVPCHG to GBH.

Will this impact services - i.e doctors or staff transporting equipment to and from, the use of an ambulance to transport them?

There is no impact on any other patient service.

Brad Hazzard said the Private Hospital wouldn't survive without selling its sterilisation services next door - was this a consideration in the decision?

The decision was based on the most efficient and effective use of public resources. SVPCHG gives the Griffith community more options for health care and this agreement has provided an opportunity to share services with the hospital. The LHD is focusing on establishing a health precinct where clinical staff work together to care for people from the Griffith region.

Ms Ludford said SVPCHG has installed sterilising equipment with capacity for both the private hospital and current and projected patient activity at GBH – however current projections are incorrect or being reviewed. How do you know a single unit will be enough?

The equipment at SVPCHG has the capacity to increase services when demand increases from the public hospital.

MLHD's media release says: "The new sterilising equipment at St Vincent’s Hospital has the capacity to support the surgical activity across both hospitals now and into the future" - according to what statistics?

This is based on both current and projected surgical and dental activity obtained from NSW Health data.

ends