Sunday, April 20, 2014

An odious proposal: privatising public health

Here's a few items whose juxtaposition is disturbing to me.

The first, discussed in detail in this earlier post, is that the private charity that runs Lifehouse at RPA excludes “non-malignant” patients from chemotherapy services, even though these were treated at its predecessor facility, the Sydney Cancer Centre.

The second is that Barry O'Farrell, while not attracting an accusation of corrupt conduct against himself, was so immersed in an environment in which wildly extravagant gifts were normal that he didn't send back a bottle of 1959 Grange, even though it came from a lobbyist who later sought favours from O'Farrell's government.

The third is this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which the new premier, who is known to have had contact with the same lobbyist, Nick Di Girolamo, wants to see NSW public hospitals operated as public-private partnerships.

Mike Baird, you have to be kidding.

The stench of lobbyist interests around privatisation is now ineradicable: Barry O'Farrell was presumed to be too straightforward and honourable to stoop to any kind of corruption, yet he fell.

Should the new premier seek to splash around contracts to put state government services under private management, he'll be putting a vast honeypot in front of private lobbies. It's doubtful, after the Chateau de de Honnête Homme incident, that any process could pass the “sniff test” in front of the citizens of NSW.

Who is going to believe that a lobbyist contacting the government about hospital privatisation is doing so innocently, when Barry the Upright couldn't smell a rat over the bouquet of a rare wine?

Who is going to believe that a “study tour” of US and UK private hospitals is anything other than a junket?

Who is going to believe that politicians won't accept board posts as their post-parliamentary payoff for handing public services into private hands?

After the fact will be too late. By the time the stench of favours-for-sale ejects a government, the damage will be done. Patients will be marginalised because that's what happens when the “mission” of a hospital is defined by private contract. The state will receive its health services with a profit margin on top, because the private providers need their profit margin.

The contracts will be drawn up by toxic lawyers whose brief from private providers will be to define their obligations as narrowly as possible and their financial entitlements as widely as possible.

As Mike Carlton writes, “the Liberal Party state machine is rotten with spivs and shonks, touts and urgers, spongers and leeches, bludgers and layabouts, shysters and shifters, corridor whisperers and sleeve-tuggers. It is infested by the buyers and sellers of power and influence. If it never plumbed the dark depths to which Edward Moses Obeid and his cronies dragged the ALP, it was still sloshing around in the same sewer.”

There's nothing about the idea of letting the Liberal Party's spiv mates get their tainted claws onto the public health system that isn't entirely odious. And afterwards will be too late.

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