9 June 2023

Justification for Calvary transition period ahead of acquisition laid out in court documents

| Claire Fenwicke
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hospital artist's impression

The Territory needs the land on which Calvary Public Hospital Bruce stands to build its new promised $1 billion northside hospital. Image: ACT Government.

Many questions have been raised over why the Territory felt it needed to have a transition period at all ahead of the compulsory acquisition of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce (CPHB) – and the answer has been laid bare in court documents.

As part of the Supreme Court legal proceedings by Calvary over the legislation behind the acquisition, an affidavit was submitted by Canberra Health Services (CHS) CEO Dave Peffer.

In it, he outlined why the Territory felt it needed to have a lead-in time for the takeover.

Mr Peffer said the Northside Hospital Transition Project Steering Committee (TPSC) had identified several risks in developing mitigation strategies around the acquisition.

A number of those were rated “high” or “extreme”, with several relating to CPHB staff.

These were the risk of ineffective payment of new staff, the risk of CPHB’s staff having a “poor experience” with the transition, which could result in an unengaged workforce, higher attrition levels, poor culture or impacted wellbeing, and the risk of failing to onboard new staff before the project ‘go live’ date which could result in the inability to collect employee data in a “streamlined and efficient manner”.

Mr Peffer said his view was that one of the most significant clinical risks to the Transition Project was around the payment of CPHB staff.

“Based on my experience, if CPHB staff were not paid after CHS takes over operation of CPHB, CHS would likely lose the trust of the CPHB workforce,” he said.

“If CPHB staff were not paid, the quality of care provided at the hospital could be compromised, with staff attention potentially being diverted away from patient care.

“The key driver of this risk eventuating would be a lack of information from Calvary in sufficient time to fully onboard new staff, including in relation to time-capturing methodologies to avoid underpayment of staff.”

In an effort to manage this, the Territory set up voluntary forms for staff to provide their information ahead of the acquisition date.

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The Transition Team also hasn’t been allowed to directly contact CPHB employees until the court orders had ceased.

Workforce information sessions have been held offsite, with about 200 staff having attended or individually sought information as of 3 June.

Mr Peffer viewed the transition period as a chance to engage with staff to boost the “safe and orderly transition” of CPHB to CHS.

“During the transition period, we intend to work very closely with middle managers to ensure we have adequate numbers of staff and the right mix of skills,” he said.

“We will track employees’ conversions as seen in key roles not coming across. We will be working with managers on the ground to identify what this will mean for the next roster so that we can fill in shortfalls.”

Mr Peffer also outlined the short transition period had been chosen as it was felt this would serve in the best interests of “safe and continuous provision” of health care services at the hospital, which he has also explained in an email to CHS staff.

“For CHS to assume responsibility for the operation of CPHB, it does not require every single detail about the hospital, the land and its assets,” Mr Peffer said.

“The Territory only requires information about the critical systems and the critical operational information.”

He argued other aspects of the acquisition could occur over the next 12 months.

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Mr Peffer’s affidavit also outlined some of the frustrations being experienced by CHS in relation to CPHB being able to adapt when The Canberra Hospital was under strain.

The Canberra Hospital is the trauma referral centre for the ACT and surrounding NSW region, and is a level 6 principal referral hospital, while CPHB is a level 4 public acute group A hospital.

Mr Peffer said there was a “substantial difference” between what they could provide.

“CHS is the healthcare provider of last resort as it provides the safety net for CPHB and other smaller hospitals in the region,” he said.

He outlined frustrations between the two hospitals when Canberra Hospital has had to activate additional beds on short notice, such as when CPHB went on ambulance bypass in May 2023.

Mr Peffer said CPHB had, at times, refused to activate capacity at short notice.

“Instead, it has required that commercial negotiations be undertaken before increasing supply in the health system,” he said.

“In my experience, this model of split public health service delivery results in inefficiencies and restricts the ability of the public health system to respond dynamically to public health requirements, including in emergency situations.”

He also said there had been difficulties in transferring people requiring non-acute care from Canberra Hospital to CPHB to free up more urgent beds.

“As a consequence, the Canberra Hospital regularly admits patients requiring generalist or non-acute care to the specialist hospital when it would have been more efficient from an operational perspective for these patients to be transferred to the level 4 hospital,” Mr Peffer said.

Calvary Health Care’s application for an injunction on the hospital’s transition was dismissed by the ACT Supreme Court on Friday (9 June).

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It is likely that the Calvary Hospital building is fit for demolition. Like most of these concrete structures built in the 70,s the reinforced steel frame work rusts and corrodes rendering the building dangerous.
Sounds like any excuse to knock it down for a land grab and perhaps not to rebuild a new hospital.
As for the land location to service the North side of Canberra. Including Gungahlin “North Canberra” is now huge. From memory, I believe there is a teaching hospital on the grounds of the Canberra University or close by. How does that fit into the new hospital plan? By the way, where is the billion dollars coming from?

Let me get this straight. These guys were worried they couldn’t work out how to pay staff on time. And they want to run a second hospital?

If they don’t have the staff records (which are on a different system, currently managed by a different organisation), then is does take time for the information to be transferred. There is the potential for delays to happen if this is poorly managed. Hospitals employ a range of people under different arrangements, including contractors, with pays varying from week to week depending on rosters and the hours worked. There is nothing unusual in that, but you can’t assume everyone gets exactly the same amount each payday. On top of that, ACT health will not currently have employees bank account details to make the payments.

What would happen if Calvary decided that it is no longer their responsibility to pay everyone before ACT Health has everyone’s details and time sheets? (I’m not suggesting Calvary would do that deliberately, but can you see the potential for a gap in services if the transition is not properly managed?)

The fact that paying staff is amongst the first priorities suggest that they are not going to screw over staff.

Cranky Chook9:43 am 12 Jun 23

Seems pretty straight forward to me. They wanted to make sure there was a hand-over period and a chance to build staff moral before they officially took the reins.

For some reason the image of the new hospital resonates with an a painting of the Tower of Babel I once saw….

Is it another phyrric reboot of rebellion and rank foolishness?

The resemblance is amazing . But one was never finished and then fell down. The other is an ACT Government promise (therefore essentially the same).

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