Flashback Friday | How St George Hospital was nearly taken over by St Vincent's

THE community rose up in anger in 1996 when the state government announced St George Hospital would be taken over by St Vincent’s Hospital.

Ten days later, after massive protests by staff and the community, the plan was scrapped.

News of the ‘‘merger’’ was kept a secret until the government’s shock announcement that it had signed a preliminary agreement with the Sisters of Charity.

The Sisters of Charity had operated St Vincent’s at Darlinghurst since 1870, but the facility was landlocked and in need of upgrading,

Under the proposal, St George Hospital would be upgraded and renamed St Vincent’s.

However, the government did not count on the fighting spirit of the St George community and quickly capitulated.

‘‘The community’s message was loud and clear,’’ Premier Bob Carr said in announcing the backdown.

After the initial announcement, nurses walked off the job, Kogarah Council called a public meeting and protest banners were raised throughout the district.

‘‘Hands off!’’, screamed the Leader’s front page.

A week later came the triumphant one-word headline was: ‘‘Saved!’’

Kogarah mayor Tom Lind described the move as ‘‘an invasion’’.

‘‘It’s like the Eastern Suburbs Roosters taking over the St George rugby league team [which was also proposed before the merger with Ilawarra Steelers], except this is much worse,’’ he said.

The government claimed the proposal would mean St George being upgraded to full teaching hospital status, with 100 more beds, two operating theatres, expanded dialysis services and a new education centre.

In addition, St Vincent’s heart and lung transplant unit and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute would move to Kogarah.

About 650 jobs were to be axed from the merged hospitals.

Nurses said talk of extra beds was a distortion because 73 beds had just been closed.

Sister Maria Cunningham, of the Sisters of Charity, said it would become the best hospital in the state, if not the country.

She said the plans were kept a secret because a previous plan to move St Vincent’s to Liverpool Hospital had ‘‘fallen apart’’ when news leaked out.

Sister Maria said the name change was ‘‘non negotiable’’.

‘‘If we could add some rider which indicates its origins or incorporates St George Hospital . . . that would be open to discussion,’’ she said.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

Every Friday we delve into the Leader archives to embark on some time travel.

We will bring you photographs of a news event from 57 years of Leader news coverage that you may or may not recall.

Flashback Friday submissions are also welcomed.

Feel free to share your recollections with us on our Facebook page @SutherlandShireStGeorgeNews or email leaderletters@fairfaxmedia.com.au