Health Services Amendment (Ambulance Services) Bill 2015

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT (Prospect) [10.48 a.m.]: I oppose the Health Services Amendment (Ambulance Services) Bill 2015. The hypocrisy of this Government is staggering. In the previous sitting week the Government pushed through new laws, which the Opposition supported, that introduce the offence of presenting as a paramedic when one does not have the appropriate qualifications. Yet today the Government has introduced a bill that divides paramedics into two categories. The people of New South Wales want to know why. Where does the Government stand? We know that the Government adores privatisation and that is what this bill is about—even though the Government knows privatisation will put at risk the quality of our State's emergency and ambulance services and paramedics.

I have no doubt that the Minister for Health—or at least a solid handful of her advisers—will be aware of the royal commission into the Victorian ambulance service that was held about 15 years ago. If they are not, perhaps they should read about it on the internet. The royal commission exposed corruption in the privatised ambulance dispatch office, which was making phantom calls in order to boost its performance and receive financial incentives. This would not have happened under a public system as there would have been no private company seeking to make a profit wherever it could. That is the great danger with this bill. Furthermore, the royal commission exposed some of the questionable secrets in the tender process for Victoria's ambulance dispatch service to an overseas company. Response times blew out and there were multiple reports of ambulances going to the wrong addresses.

The turmoil that this created eventually led to the downfall of the Kennett Government. It was a key factor that the people of Victoria considered when they decided to remove the Kennett Government and put Labor in office. Here is my warning to the Minister for Health and, indeed, to the Government: The road to privatisation of the Ambulance Service in New South Wales is dangerous and will lead to the Coalition Government falling apart. Do not do it; withdraw this amendment and keep Pandora's box shut. The people of New South Wales do not deserve to suffer because of the Government's bad decisions and incompetence.

I acknowledge the work of non-government organisations that are currently providing patient transport services in New South Wales. In particular, I acknowledge the Royal Flying Doctor Service, an Australian icon, and Careflight—which we know very well in Western Sydney—which operates out of Westmead Hospital, some 15 minutes from my home in Greystanes. Those organisations operate on a not-for-profit basis. They also have highly specialised equipment and personnel—in this case, qualified emergency doctors and aircrew that I doubt would be the ideal business model of an entrepreneur looking to profit from the privatisation of patient transport services.

The Minister has not released any information about what regulations she will introduce to ensure quality of care in privatised patient transport services. Why not? The people of New South Wales deserve to know about the quality of care and to have a certain standard. The Government is turning its back on what should be the first priority of health care—ensuring quality care for patients. The Opposition understands that the private sector is very important in health care, and I support free enterprise and entrepreneurialism in the sector. However, the Opposition understands the importance of separating business from government. The Government wants to privatise patient transport services not because it believes it will improve service—not at all. It wants to privatise the service because it will allow its supporters to make a quick buck.

Privatisation is in the Government's DNA. The Minister does not seem to care that this will cause a deterioration in patient care; nor does she seem to care about the security of her position or the longevity of the Baird Government in the event of this proposal's inevitable failure, as happened in Victoria. The Opposition opposes this bill with good reason. In Western Sydney in electorates such as Prospect patients are already suffering. One need only look as far as Fairfield Hospital to see that patients are being let down, with an undersized emergency department and a surgery department in demountable buildings. Patients who attend Fairfield Hospital depend on non-emergency patient transport to travel to hospitals that are able to treat them.

It is important that those patients, who are already suffering and who have already been let down by this Government, get the best care available given the circumstances. Their costs, which are often exacerbated by their being out of work during their hospitalisation, must be kept as low as possible. This is another lesson we must learn from Victoria. Costs increased under privatisation of the ambulance system. So the outcome of this bill is clear: poorer services to patients, increased costs for the Government, scandal and irreparable damage to the State's healthcare system. This bill cannot be allowed to pass. I join the Opposition in opposing the bill and I urge the Government to withdraw it as soon as possible.

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