Gladstone's private hospital will no longer be open 24/7
EXCLUSIVE: GLADSTONE'S private health services are set to take another blow with the Mater Hospital to reduce its opening hours from next week.
A letter emailed to Mater Gladstone employees on February 8 from Mercy Health and Aged Care Central Queensland executive director Sue Thurbon outlined a plan to reduce the hospital's business hours to Monday to Friday.
It said the change was necessary due to the sharp decline in the number of people utilising private health insurance.
"As you know the proposal on which we sought your feedback was for a change to the Hospital's normal business hours to that of a five (5) day week, Monday to Friday, rather than continuing with the current 24/7 operation," the letter reads.
It said the new five-day-a-week surgical service would be effective from Monday, February 18. Overnight patient accommodation is available from Monday to Thursday.
"But, if needed, overnight accommodation for patients will still be available on the Friday night with the patient being discharged on the Saturday morning before 10am," the letter said.
The letter said the change followed a number of "significant financial challenges" facing private healthcare in Australia, including falling numbers of people using private health insurance.
A recent Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report into private health insurance found the cost continued to be of concern for households.
In 2017-18, consumers paid about $23.9 billion in private health insurance premiums, an increase of almost $834million, or 3.6 per cent, from 2016-17.
The letter said the new opening hours were aimed at delivering the current services more efficiently and to assist the hospital's future viability.
The decision comes five months after maternity services closed at the hospital.
Mercy Health cited declining birth numbers as the reason for the October 1 maternity closure.
The page-and-a-half letter goes on to address employee hours affected by the decision, stating "I would especially like to thank those employees who regularly work weekend shifts, and therefore are directly impacted by the proposed change... Rosters will be posted or amended to reflect the change in operations effective 18 February 2019."
The news follows the commencement of the $42million emergency department upgrade to the Gladstone Hospital last week, which is expected to be completed by mid next year.
The Observer approached Mercy Health for comment.