30 May 2023

Legal action 'only response left' as ACT Government's takeover of Calvary Public Hospital looms

| Claire Fenwicke
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Calvary Public Hospital Bruce

The messy saga around the ACT Government’s proposed acquisition of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce continues, with Calvary Health Care indicating legal action is its last option left. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Calvary Health Care has indicated legal action is its “only response left” regarding the ACT Government’s proposed acquisition of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.

It follows confirmation from the ACT Government that it intends the Health Infrastructure Enabling Bill – the law which would legalise the takeover – to be debated and passed in full tomorrow (31 May).

On Tuesday (30 May), Calvary Health Care said unless the government agreed to adjourn debate on the bill to “make room for genuine discourse”, it would have no choice but to escalate the matter.

“Our review of the proposed legislation and associated regulation indicates that just terms are simply not available and outside of this, there is no indication that commercial terms are available to resolve this matter,” Calvary National Chief Executive Martin Bowles said.

“All we have is an announcement and an imposed unrealistic timeline that has distressed our people and could ultimately put clinical safety at risk.”

Calvary Health Care said it would continue to support staff while the court considered the legal challenge, if it transpires.

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This seems imminent, as Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith stated today she fully expected the Health Infrastructure Enabling Bill will pass.

She will introduce some amendments in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, which she said were “minor and technical”.

“[The amendments] are all around tightening up some language in the bill and making sure that it is as simple to understand and as straightforward as possible and that it will really support a smooth transition of services from Calvary Health Care to Canberra Health Services,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“There is nothing in these amendments that doesn’t completely support the original intention of the bill and the way it has been drafted.”

Ms Stephen-Smith said she was “very confident” the legislation would stand up to any legal challenge.

“The announcement from Calvary Health Care does not change our plans to debate and pass legislation tomorrow,” she said.

“From our perspective, any legal challenge is a separate matter and will be responded to in parallel with the transition.

“The ACT Government will continue to prioritise, and expects that Calvary will also prioritise, continuity of quality safe patient care during the transition.”

She called on Calvary’s national office team to think about staff and consumers, and provide certainty of a smooth transition.

“We have already heard that many staff are keen to engage actively in the transition process and we hope Calvary will not seek to put barriers in the way of this,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

A Calvary spokesperson said its priority was the interests and welfare of staff.

Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith expected the acquisition bill to pass the Legislative Assembly. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Other concerns were also raised over the future of Canberra’s palliative care services, the concerning culture at Canberra Hospital and whether the ACT Government’s takeover of Calvary Public has breached an enterprise bargaining agreement.

The Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) ACT branch said its key demands were for Calvary Hospital to stand apart from the Canberra Hospital and keep its workplace culture.

AMA ACT president Professor Walter Abhayaratna said while some progress has been made in talks with the government, senior medical staff were still “wary” of its plans.

“The message from our town hall meeting was that senior doctors do not want the Canberra Hospital culture imposed on them,” he said.

“They’re not against collaboration, but they don’t want structures simply imposed on them.

“The trust deficit is significant, and the ACT Government will need to work hard to bridge the gap.”

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Association (ANMF) claimed lack of consultation from the government over the acquisition process breached its enterprise bargaining agreement.

A statement from branch secretary Matthew Daniel said under the ACT Public Sector Nursing and Midwifery Enterprise Agreement 2020-2022 (section 159), “effective consultation” was needed with employees and their representatives, including unions, on workplace matters.

The union questioned how members could be satisfied the ACT Government and public service had considered all relevant matters to patient care when staff weren’t consulted, given Canberra Hospital and Calvary Public Hospital Bruce have different clinical policies, procedures and processes.

However, the ANMF ACT was also critical of Calvary, stating it had allowed “battlelines” and “wargaming” to play out in the media.

“It does not appear Calvary have genuinely considered the views of its workforce and do not appear to have sought to work collaboratively with the ACT Government to ensure the health and well-being of their Nurses and Midwives,” the statement said.

“And it is still not clear how co-operative Calvary will be, if and when the legislation is enacted.”

Questions were also raised over community palliative care services provided by Clare Holland House, such as the home-based, PEACE Team, outpatient clinics, allied health and spiritual/pastoral care.

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Ms Stephen-Smith argued community consultation with Calvary Public staff and their union representatives hadn’t been possible thus far because Calvary staff currently work for a private employer.

She promised a draft transition plan would be circulated to key stakeholders and staff as soon as the Health Infrastructure Enabling Bill was passed so consultation could begin immediately.

Ms Stephen-Smith said she had spoken with representatives from Clare Holland House and heard their concerns about external services as part of negotiations.

She blamed Calvary Health Care for putting Clare Holland House staff in this uncertain situation in the first place.

“[It] has, for many years, resisted our requests to establish Clare Holland House under a formal, separate contract,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Ms Stephen-Smith said she had been clear from the outset the hospital would maintain its own identity.

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Why did they not just let the contract run its course and then not renew it at the end of its term? There would be various conditions in the contract to accommodate a transition out. This would have been the least disruptive, cost affective and right thing to do. Now we rate payers will be made to pay again for a poorly managed undertaking.

There is absolutely no similarity between Daryl Kerrigan and the Catholic Church. However, the similarities between the Kerrigans and their neighbours on the one hand and Calvary Hospital on the other hand, are inescapable : they both faced/are facing a bully trying to take over someone’s property on what the bully says is just terms. The Barr-Rattenbury government should have another viewing of The Castle and take note of the outcome. All jokes aside, this debacle could also end up in the High Court. And for those who claim religion plays no part in the government’s gambit … may I remind them of the number of times Andrew Barr has said publicly that while he has no problem with freedom of religion he would also like freedom from religion. That vibe may come back to haunt him if this matter is ultimately litigated in the High Court.

While the process and speed of ACT government’s take over of Calvary hospital has left a lot to be desired, just exactly what is wrong with Barr’s stating “… he has no problem with freedom of religion he would also like freedom from religion”?

Surely, in our secular democracy, citizens are free to pursue whatever religious beliefs they hold, and similarly citizens are free to not pursue any religious beliefs?

When it comes to the provision of publicly funded health services, religious dogma should not determine whether or not citizens are able to access particular health services.

I agree with JustSaying. I can’t see how that comment from Barr will have any relevance in a court challenge. The court will make a ruling based on what is in the contract and the legislation. It has nothing to do with Mr Barr’s personal view on religion. And as entertaining as that movie might have been, it is not a relevant legal precedent.

Nothing wrong, per se, with him saying he would like freedom from religion … it is his prerogative. It does, however, makes it a bit disingenuous for him and his Health Minister to keep saying that religion has played no part in their decision. I don’t believe them. And no, I am not a Catholic.

Sorry how is it disingenuous when the Calvary Hospital is failing in its delivery of the full suite of health services for which it is being funded by the ACT government? Seems like the Calvary Hospital is playing the religious card in determining what services it will provide. If Calvary wants to operate as a religious facility it should stop taking money from the ACT government. And yes, I am a baptised catholic – I just don’t blindly accept the dogma which is forced on us.

Probably due to lack of funding…. Just saying….

I’m sure your comment makes sense to you?!?

Nka “Nidakas” Asd6:09 pm 02 Jun 23

Well, that is what you get when you keep the same govt in power for 20 years. And these mobs in power have Ken Behrens exactly where they wanted them -where the can talk at you, not to you. People hailing this takeover should understand that what goes around comes around. Today it’s calvary hospital, next, it could be your business or home. Just keep voting for them.

Victor Bilow6:35 pm 31 May 23

This will cost the ACT community another BIG LOT OF MONEY due to this governments inefficiency. They gave it away in the first place. Following the release of the enquiry’s recommandations, in May 2023 the ACT Government announced it planned to take over the hospital land and assets and to redevelop the site as part of a $1 billion healthcare campus for Canberra’s northern districts. The planned acquisition followed attempts to purchase the hospital from LCMHC during 2010, when a deal was not possible as expected approval from the Vatican was expected to take several years. “Seriously”

Having been a patient at both, I can only support the ACT Govt in this move. Every time I have been in Calvary I have just wanted to get out. I have heard so many doctors, nurses and other medical staff saying that they do not want to be sent there and have heard so many stories about sub-standard care and not going with patient wishes. I do not think Governments should be pouring public money into what is essentially a private business offering sub-standard care.

I disagree scouserdog. This takeover is about a hospital being owned and operated by a single private entity and funded by taxpayers.
I have received care from the Calvary Hospital on three occasions, one a major operation.
The staff and the care I received was excellent!!

Why not take the religion out of this argument, which is just a red herring. Why is the government not building a new hospital at Gungahlin as they promised? Why does this have to be either/or? Why not keep Calvary and build in Gungahlin? Frankly, staff in Canberra Hospital go around like ducks in a thunderstorm and could learn a lot from the professionalism, dedicated culture and work ethic of staff at Calvary. Canberra Hospital is not good at what they do and has a nasty culture of bullying. I live on the south side, but would go to Calvary over Canberra Hospital in a heart beat. I really don’t care if it is Catholic or Calathumpian, they do a better job at Calvary and that is what counts.

Calvary is NOT a Catholic Hospital. It is a PUBLIC HOSPITAL created and operated using ACT tax payer funds paid to business masquerading as a religion. Free land, free buildings and tax payer ongoing funding. The ACT Government tried to negotiate a new 25 year agreement in line with the creation of a much needed new hospital on the booming North Side but dollars more than sense drove Calvary’s defiance. Failure to use the tax free profits they made to repair 5 operating theatres and install a pediatrics unit in Canberra’s fastest growing family area says it all. Calvary used the tax free profits to build a Private Hospital on the grounds…which they get to keep anyway and that was after using a PUBLIC HOSPITAL to house and charge their private patients. This is not about religion. It’s about The Vatican giving up a tax free cash cow from their $15 billion dollar profit a year Health, education and welfare Australian dairy.

Barr Government is giving me Soviet vibes after this move. I guess it goes with their rubbish lack of services they offer those not living in Braddon

Bob the impala7:13 pm 31 May 23

“Soviet vibes”?

Zed SS, please provide a timeline of the development of the Australian Constitution compared with that of Bolshevik and Menshevik parties before the former’s replacement of the Czarist autocracy with an oligarchy and subsequent dictatorship over the soviets (which from Russian means an elected group, by the way; not quite what you seemed to think).

Hint: Our Constitution came first, and relates to proper operation of a democracy in which men and women vote, and caters for the acquisition of property on just terms. “The vibe” was in The Castle. That was a fictional movie.

I might have skipped over some important details in the article. What was the total financial take over cost to the ACT tax payer?

Bob the impala1:27 pm 31 May 23

You could ask the Catholic church, Darkcongo. They are the ones trying to push it up.

Peter Herman12:32 pm 31 May 23

As usual the ACTGovt have got their priorities up their nose
Instead of worrying about the hospital system which is doing fine ( at present) stop wasting taxpayer funds on something that has been working ok for years
I have spent time in both Canberra and Calvary and I can honestly say that the staff at Calvery are so much more professional
Instead of the government worried about ‘taking over Calvert’ why don’t they sort out the mess that they have created
I am waiting for an urgent operation which isn’t catered for in Canberra Hospital, but is in Calvary, so instead of worrying about ‘take over’ why not fix the problems at hand right now
As usual priorities in the trash can

Authoritarian and deceptive as well. Lost my vote

ACT government is disgusting.

I’ll take the ACT Government’s ethics over the Catholic church any day. If in doubt, educate yourself on how the church is trying to low ball survivors of sexual abuse by dragging the court case out until the perpetrator has died and then applying for a stay – real ethical!

The Catholic Church is not remotely interested in genuine discussion or consultation. They will fight to the bitter end so they can control the hospital and influence abortions and euthanasia.

LOL, yes it is all about the lack of willingness for genuine discussion and consultation from Calvary that’s at issue.

It’s not like the ACT Government planned for months to make a unilateral decision and ram through supporting legislation without talking to stakeholders…..

Oh wait.

frankly22, I think its more likely that they are trying to maximise the amount of compensation they’ll get.

Bob the impala9:27 am 31 May 23

megsy is right of course. This is purely about how “just” this church considers the terms.

This has been going on, one way or another, for about fifteen years, and the government appears to be entirely within its legal and constitutional rights to decide to stop having their and our time wasted for just another church’s benefit.

I don’t want my tax money to fund free abortions in ACT either, according to the whims and fancies of some leaders.

M Fdo, this is not about free abortions. It is about how Calvary is now too small to service the needs of North Canberra, along with the urgent upgrades needed in many of its buildings (which Calvary is expecting the govt to fund). Many patients are already being transferred to TCH because Calvary just doesn’t have the range of specialists needed. Decisions on upgrading this hospital should have been made years ago, but Calvary has been failing to engage – in their hubris, they’ve been expecting the ACT will keep footing the bills because they assumed the govt would not take this drastic step.

I know you went off topic, but I’m with you 👍

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