Member for Mildura Ali Cupper

THE much anticipated return of the Mildura Base Hospital to public administration is now just three weeks away, with the official handover on September 15.

Leading the charge to have the hospital’s management taken out of the hands of a private operator, was Member for Mildura, Ali Cupper, who together with a strong local action group of residents and members of the medical fraternity, waged a determined campaign over many years.

Last August, they finally had the victory they were seeking.

On the eve of the transition, a passionate Ms Cupper spoke to the ‘Weekly about the relentless campaign that has been close to her heart.

“It’s so exciting. As we have said for a long time, if privatisation of a public hospital was such a good thing, why wasn’t everyone doing it?” Ms Cupper said.

“I said in my first speech, that I was the only MP in the Victorian State Parliament who had a privatised hospital in their electorate, and as far as I knew no one else was asking for one.

“I think that some things shouldn’t be run for a profit and we are just saying that privatisation of public hospitals is not in the community interest.”

Ms Cupper said it had been long hard-fought campaign against strong forces.

“This was a mammoth battle. The classic battle between grass roots members of the community and the medical fraternity, against a big corporation, and at varying times, against governments that were quite happy to have big corporations in charge of these sorts of essential services,” she said.

Ms Cupper said she expected the changeover to be smooth for the majority of existing staff at the hospital.

“It was always the goal that staff wouldn’t feel much of a difference really, other than over time, they would adapt to and embrace a culture of public healthcare which puts patients at the centre at every turn,” she said. “Where trying to make a profit, where accountants are keeping an eye on how much money is being saved in so called efficiencies, is no longer the practice.

“So we are hoping, and I certainly expect, that changes ex-perienced by staff members will be positive changes, not negative ones – that’s not to say that there might not be teething problems.”

Ms Cupper said staff would become eligible for salary packaging, which will be introduced to the new public hospital employment structure.

“Salary packaging is a key advantage of the hospital being back in public hands for the hospital’s staff,” Ms Cupper said.

“All staff will be eligible for salary packaging, which we know has been a deterrent for some people in coming to Mildura to work at our hospital because of the lack of salary packaging. Our calculations were roughly that it will mean an extra $4000 take home pay per year for staff.”

Ms Cupper said the other major advantage for the community and the hospital would be the locally appointed board of management.

“Our public board, made up of community members, aren’t people based in a board room in Sydney, they aren’t interested in profit margins. They are people who attend this hospital themselves, whose children will attend this hospital, whose elderly parents will attend this hospital, they are going to be in charge,” she said.

“They will be formally in charge from September 15 and they will be directly accountable to the community that they serve.”

Ms Cupper said that the hospital’s return to public administration was going to be a focal point for community cohesion.

“Once again we are going to be able to raise funds for our hospital and we’re going to be able to volunteer for our hospital,” she said.

“There will be a built in reason, in terms of the public good being the one and only reason for the hospital being here, and to be able to play more of a leading collaborative role with Mallee Track Hospital and Robinvale Hospital.

“There will be opportunities for further collaboration with professional networks across the state, including in the city. One of the things that I am looking forward to, is the possibility of a formal partnership with the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre, and working toward better cardiac facilities here.”

The 165-bed Mildura Base Hospital has been managed by Ramsay Health Care in a contractual arrangement with the Victorian Government since 2000 when the new hospital opened.