PRIVATE BATTLE: Qld Health to consider buying hospital
THE future of Gladstone's private hospital is uncertain with owner Mercy Health signalling its intention to sell the facility.
In a letter sent to staff and stakeholders yesterday chief executive officer Lynne Sheehan said the company is giving active consideration to the possible sale of Gladstone Mater to another provider or Queensland Health.
It follows the closure of Gladstone Mater's maternity serves in October last year and a reduction in opening hours in February.
Ms Sheehan said the decision to consider selling the hospital was not made lightly and followed careful consideration and analysis of community demand for the service.
"Change is always difficult and I know it can create uncertainty and anxiety," Ms Sheehan wrote.
"I am acutely aware of how challenging this period of change and transition may have been for you."
"I am very grateful for the patience and understanding you have shown." She said the company wanted to be transparent and open about the discussions taking place.
The move comes at a time when the number of Australians with private health cover is at an 11-year low of 44.6 per cent of the population.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority found that in December alone 12,370 people dropped their cover.
Health Minister Steven Miles said in a statement to The Observer he was disappointed to hear of Mercy Health's decision.
Pointing to recent private hospital closures, including in Gympie, Mr Miles said the same fate would be met for more services if premiums were not reduced.
"Queensland Health will liaise closely with the Mater to make sure the community gets the health services it needs," Mr Miles said.
In January Health Care Australia announced it would close Gympie Private Hospital in February after it was deemed no longer viable.
Member for Gladstone Glenn Butcher said he would urge Queensland Health to purchase the hospital in a deal that would upgrade Gladstone Hospital.
"I've spoken to the minister previously about the opportunity to purchase Mater, particularly after it wasn't being used at its full capacity after it dropped some of its services," Mr Butcher said.
"I think it's the perfect opportunity for Queensland Health to take it on."
Mr Butcher said the addition of larger operating theatres would help attract more specialists to the region.
"I'm not sure how it would work but you could have a mix of specialists who could operate under a private and public basis," he said.
Ms Sheehan said there was a need for Mercy Health Aged Care Central Queensland to realign and give "serious consideration" to selling the hospital.
She said the staff's welfare and best interests would be at the forefront of any discussions around a potential sale.
"I am sorry for any uncertainty, anxiety or concern that my correspondence to you today may cause but I could not progress discussions about any prospective sale, in clear conscience, without letting you know of the discussions that will be taking place with respect to the future of Gladstone Mater," she wrote.
A Queensland Health spokesman said Gladstone Mater was an important part of the health system in the region.
He said Queensland Health would need to look at the proposal and consider a range of factors before making any decision on the purchase of the hospital.
While discussions are taking place Ms Sheehan said current hospital services would remain as normal.