On the 31st of May, the ACT Government passed legislation to compulsorily acquire Calvary Public Hospital and build a new facility valuing $1 billion at the site. In response, the hospital’s owner, the Little Company of Mary Health Care, took legal action against the acquisition in the Supreme Court. This action was subsequently lost.
The acquisition was finalised on the 3rd of July, with the hospital now known as ‘North Canberra Hospital’.
Calvary Public Hospital: The Past
Established in 1979, Calvary Public Hospital was previously a government-funded venture of Little Company of Mary Healthcare, which describes itself as “a not for profit Catholic health organisation.” A recent standing committee inquiry recommended that the ACT Government investigate the hospital’s reluctance to provide “full reproductive health services in accordance with human rights.”
This was following an alleged incident where a woman was denied a dilation and curettage procedure (D&C). The D&C procedure removes abnormal tissues from the uterus. The woman reported that Calvary refused to perform a D&C procedure during her incomplete miscarriage, arguing that the procedure was used for abortions.
Calvary Public Hospital has rejected the woman’s statement and the report’s accusations, claiming that D&C was performed by the hospital as a standard emergency procedure for an incomplete miscarriage.
However, in addition to this, the hospital confirmed that it does not “offer elective termination of pregnancy” – in other words, abortions performed in a non-emergency context. Abortion is legal and free in the ACT.
Additionally, although euthanasia is legalisd in the ACT, the hospital also does not provide euthanasia, assisted suicide, or voluntary assisted dying services, nor does it acknowledge these procedures as medical treatments.
Calvary Public Hospital: The Future?
Prior to the takeover, Calvary Public Hospital was one of the ACT’s two primary public hospitals. Under private provision, Calvary could deny certain medical services in line with its religious affiliations.
Preceding the acquisition, despite months of protracted negotiations between the ACT Government and the hospital, neither party could reach an agreement on the future of the hospital. The hospital did not accept the terms of the government’s 25-year modern services agreement to operate a new hospital, with additional medical facilities and services.
Earlier on during the matter, Federal opposition leader Peter Dutton claimed that the acquisition was an “attack on religion.” However, others argue that the acquisition allows patients in Canberra’s north access to essential healthcare, such as abortion and contraception.
This year the ACT became the first jurisdiction to offer free abortion healthcare. Calvary Hospital previously received a significant amount of funding from the government, who maintains that its previous contract with the Hospital was restrictive. In this case, the restrictive contract meant the government could not flexibly legislate on or administer services at the public hospital, which included broadening the schedule of medical services to include reproductive health procedures such as abortions.
The ACT Government has additionally assured that the acquisition was supported by expert opinion.
What complications have arisen?
Calvary Hospital previously applied for an injunction to halt the compulsory acquisition. Calvary’s lawyer argued that the enabling legislation did not provide “just terms” for the acquisition, despite the government providing financial compensation for the transition.
ACT Solicitor General Peter Garrison argued that the Hospital was taking a narrow view on the acquisition, with recent claims that the acquisition was prompting an “anti-life” agenda. Instead, Garrison argued, the acquisition would allow “the government to provide a public hospital under a single operator.” Calvary Hospital subsequently lost this action, with the hospital’s transition to the ACT Government now underway.
What does this mean for ANU students?
With the recent closure of Hobart Place General Practice, and the large wait time and staffing shortages at ANU Medical Clinic, health care services have become increasingly inaccessible for ANU students.
Calvary Public Hospital is the closest public hospital to the ANU. Broadening the schedule of medical services to provide reproductive health services would expand healthcare options available to the ANU student body. Disaffiliation with a religious provider additionally may affect how comfortable students feel during their consultations and visits at the hospital.
Following the acquisition, there remains concerns as to the culture of the new North Canberra Hospital. Although the ACT Government Health Minister has ensured that staff will maintain employment, under the same conditions; the ACT branch of Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has criticised the decision and claimed that the hospital staff “deserved better,” questioning the timing of consultation with nursing and midwifery staff. A fast change-over, without proper staff consultations means that the hospital staff will face a burden to adapt to the new ownership in a short period of time.
Given the nature of the takeover, it remains to be seen how the new hospital will operate and how the transitional phase will affect patients. An expansion of services at one centre looks unlikely to address the difficulty in accessing healthcare in Canberra.
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