By Erin Snelgrove
In her own words, Lynne Williams is a woman of principle. As one of almost 2000 patients per month set to be affected by the proposed privatisation of the Prince of Wales Hospital hydrotherapy pool – a result of the O’Farrell government’s $3 billion cut to the state health budget – she has found herself as the face of a campaign to save essential public hospital services.
The Prince of Wales Hospital (POWH) has been told to find $775m in savings over four years, with Terry Clout, Chief Executive Officer of the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD), admitting that hospitals will be required to maximise ‘revenue opportunities’. This despite assurances that frontline services would remain in tact regardless of budget cuts and a key priority to ‘improve access to healthcare for vulnerable populations’ identified in the Eastern Sydney and Inner West Regional Action Plan for the NSW Government’s ten year plan NSW 2021.
While SESLHD and POWH have made assurances that there will be consultation with staff, unions and the community regarding any changes to access to the hydrotherapy pool and other services, the Health Services Union (HSU) reports that privatisation of crucial services such as the hydrotherapy pool is just the beginning and has launched its O’Farrell Cuts, We Bleed campaign, which will travel across NSW for the next 6 months to highlight what it calls budget cut atrocities.
Therapeutic hydrotherapy treatment is a highly effective, well established program used to treat a broad range of injuries and disease, but generally those that cause pain or inhibit movement including cerebral palsy, post-polio syndrome, spinal and acquired brain injury. Confined to a wheelchair after a series of accidents and major surgeries, Williams describes how the POWH hydrotherapy pool provides her only opportunity for exercise, helping to manage both severe arthritis and diabetes. And the benefits aren’t just physical, with treatment helping to combat the social isolation common to many as a result of their disease or injury.
Williams was at pains to clarify that while her initial concerns were founded in the personal impact of the hydrotherapy pool’s privatisation, she is now focused on getting the community informed and engaged to fight the catastrophic impact these massive spending cuts will have on an already overstretched public hospital system.
At a rally held outside the hospital in late January, HSU NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes told patients and hospital workers that the privatisation of the hydrotherapy pool was just one example of how cuts to the health budget would devastate both health workers and the broader community; with pensioners and low-income workers hardest hit.
A Disability Support Pensioner, Williams describes how a massive increase in fees from $6 to an estimated $78 per session, would make continuing her twice weekly hydrotherapy treatments an impossibility. To put it further out of reach, there is also talk that the pool’s community transport service, essential in providing access to mobility limited patients, will be scrapped.
While the state government passes responsibility for how savings are made to local health district bureaucrats – distancing itself from unpopular decisions – Lynne Williams is imagining the stark reality of life without the Prince of Wales hydrotherapy pool, and mounting a campaign to save essential public hospital services; as a matter of principle.