Canberra Health Services (CHS) has hit back at reports it is privatising the Fetal Medicine Unit (FMU) at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.
It’s after the Liberals released a statement saying CHS had requested proposals from private providers to supply medical and sonography services.
Shadow Health Minister Leanne Castley said a Request for Proposal issued by CHS for three sonographers and one certified maternal-fetal medicine specialist and/or certified obstetric and gynaecological ultrasound specialist – along with ultrasound and training services – was an “abject admission” by the government that it had failed to provide an adequate public FMU.
“It is astounding that the Minister would look to plug gaps in this unit by outsourcing a solution rather than work with employees who are still with CHS,” she said.
“The fact that the Minister did not consult with the CPSU and tried to rush this through shows that she cares more about getting out of a bad news story than long-term solutions and working with staff.”
The Request for Proposal is not currently viewable on the Tenders ACT website.
Ms Castley said a lack of applicants for the positions to this point suggested the hospital’s reputation was “tarnished” and that more should have been done to keep other staff in the unit.
“Too often we hear the Minister deny the serious issues in our public health systems and try to patch the holes with short-term, ad hoc staffing solutions,” she said.
“The Minister has seen the poor culture fester in the Women Youth and Children Division and has decided it’s easier to plug gaps by outsourcing rather than actually fix the issues.
“The Minister did not mention that these services would be outsourced in her speech three weeks ago, which goes to show the lack of transparency and culture of secrecy that this Minister operates under.”
No reasons have been supplied or verified about why staff had left in the first place.
A Canberra Health Services spokesperson said that while a Request for Proposal had been issued to contract three sonographers and a specialist, this was only to “temporarily deliver ultrasound services”.
They stated the contractor’s duties would include triaging of patient referrals, procedures, scanning and reporting, and training within the FMU.
“This request for proposals is seeking options to temporarily fill some positions and not to outsource the operation of the Fetal Medicine Unit,” the spokesperson said.
“The clinical contractors, if appointed, would work with and complement the existing experienced, quality staff within the Fetal Medicine Unit.”
The contract with the suitable contractor or contractors is for an initial term of 12 months, with the option to extend for a period of up to an additional 12 months.
The CHS spokesperson said national and international recruitment would continue to permanently fill the roles while the potential contract (if entered into) was in place.
“We will work with our clinical teams in deciding whether or not this is the right option for continued provision of the service,” they said.
They also stressed that no CHS employees would lose their employment or be required to undertake reemployment under the contractor.
“Any contractors engaged through this tender process will complement existing staff in the unit,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, the training provided by the Contractor is designed to upskill existing staff that will help meet training requirements into the future.”
The push for more staff has come on the back of the revelation during the March sitting weeks that the FMU’s training accreditation had been temporarily suspended.
A letter from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) subspecialities committee chair Dr John Regan dated 26 July, 2022 was tabled at the Legislative Assembly, stating the unit’s provisional accreditation had been pulled due to changes in staff.
An interim new program director and training supervisor was slated to start the role on 1 August, 2022, with a gradual handover.
“However, due to unforeseeable circumstances, there was a need for [the new program director] to step into this role at short notice and he is currently managing single-handedly,” the letter stated.
“He has indicated that he feels unable to support a trainee at this point in time, until he finds his feet.”
The training accreditation was formally suspended from 8 August, impacting one trainee who was in their third year of training.
This decision is set to be reviewed by RANZCOG at their November 2023 meeting.