Private hospital returned to public control
The La Trobe Regional Hospital is to be returned to public control on November 1. Private operator, Australian Hospital Care has negotiated with the Bracks Government to end its 20-year contract which was signed during the Kennett years. Earlier this year the company launched legal action in the Supreme Court against the Victorian Government. It claimed $10 million in damages from the Victorian Government for under-funding the hospital and not fulfilling other contractual obligations. The company has agreed to drop the legal action and pay the Government around $1 million to end the contract. Victoria's Health Minister said that there would be no job cuts or reductions in pay or conditions for the 1,000 staff employed at the hospital. The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) Victorian Branch had negotiated an agreement with the private operator at the time which provided similar pay and conditions to those paid to public sector employees. The Minister said that the return to public ownership would allow the hospital to expand its services in mental health and radiotherapy. The Federal Labor Opposition has promised to establish an independent inquiry into all privatised hospitals if it wins next elections. This is the second time that the Victorian Government has taken control of a privatised service. Early in October the Government sacked the private operators of the Deer Park women's prison for repeated breaches of contractual obligations. The Government has also pulled the plug on a planned privatisation. "There was a plan to privatise the Austen hospital which is a major tertiary referral centre and those plans have been rescinded so it will remain in public hands and refurbished and rebuilt", said the ANF spokesperson.