· Hundreds rally to save Shellharbour hospital
· Doctors warn of risk to vulnerable
· Dementia patients strapped to beds in America

About 1500 unionised public health workers rallied at Shellharbour Hospital on Sunday, warning of inferior patient care if the State Government proceeds with the sale of regional hospitals.

“Many of my rehab patients with strokes and amputations need long stays in hospital to recover,” said Dr Geoff Murray, Illawarra Health District Director of Rehabilitation.

"In public hospitals we allow them the time they need. We absorb the cost so we can get them back home. But a private operator won’t do that.”

Dr Murray said he feared elderly dementia patients would be neglected and abused, mirroring what happens in the privatised system in America.

“Patients with dementia can get very agitated. They can wander, fall, injure themselves. At Shellharbour, nurses now stay with agitated patients to keep them safe. But that costs money. In America, Medicare & Medicaid funded patients who are confused don’t get a nurse to keep them safe. Instead they are physically restrained in their beds or chairs. This is standard practice in America for these patients. We must ask ourselves as a community do we want our confused elderly public patients treated this way by a private operator?”

Dr Murray said palliative care patients and mentally ill homeless people would also suffer under an Americanised system.

“Only 26% of people have private health insurance in the Southern Highlands. A private operator cannot make much money out of 74% of public patients. The only way to make a profit is to cut patient safety.”

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