Private hospitals in St George and Sutherland Shire join the coronavirus fight

Health merger: Hurstville Private Hospital's theatres will soon be taken over to treat public hospital patients and those with coronavirus.
Health merger: Hurstville Private Hospital's theatres will soon be taken over to treat public hospital patients and those with coronavirus.

Private hospitals in St George and Sutherland Shire will be at the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic, following an unprecedented deal struck between the private health sector and the federal government.

The deal, which followed the cancellation of all non-urgent elective surgery across the private and public sectors from April 1, is part of the government's plan to fight the pandemic.

It followed a backlash from the private health sector, which threatened job losses in the wake of the cancellation.

The government said the partnership would ensure the "full resources of the health system" would be ready and focused on treating patients as required, through the coronavirus pandemic.

"Our government has guaranteed the viability and capacity of the private hospital sector in an agreement that will ensure over 30,000 hospital beds, and the sector's 105,000 skilled workforce is available alongside the public hospital sector," it said in a statement.

"This will strengthen our Australian COVID-19 response and preserve the sector's capacity to resume hospital services after the epidemic."

State and territory governments were tasked with completing private hospital COVID-19 partnership agreements, which would effectively see private and public systems integrated.

"These facilities will be required to make infrastructure, essential equipment (including ventilators), supplies (including PPE), workforce and additional resources fully available to the state and territory hospital system or the Australian government," the federal government said.

As part of the deal, the federal government said private hospitals might take on responsibility for the public system's urgent elective surgery caseload, and its wards and operating theatres could be used to treat coronavirus patients.

Healthe Care Australia, owner of Hurstville Private Hospital, said it was ready to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

Australia's third largest private health care provider spent days locked in talks with the federal government to secure a solution for its hospitals and staff, while ensuring support for the public health sector.

Healthe Care chief executive Steve Atkins said the costs associated with operating hospitals while elective surgery was paused brought challenges for the private healthcare industry.

"But we are working hard to keep on providing healthcare to communities through business as usual and in response to the crisis," he said.

"We remain ready and willing to help our country as best we can in this time of significant community need, and believe that our doctors, nurses, staff and hospitals have a significant role to play in assisting the public sector and our community to combat the far-reaching effect of COVID-19."

Mr Atkins said the company was working "around the clock" with both the federal and state governments to finalise agreements with its hospitals.

A NSW Health spokeswoman said the state government had been "engaging with private hospitals to secure delivery capacity" during the pandemic.

"NSW is upscaling its level of preparedness for COVID-19, with moves underway to double intensive care capacity across the state," aNSW Health spokeswoman said.

"Our Local Health Districts have been planning for this for many weeks and are adjusting their response according to our increasing knowledge about the impact of COVID-19 in NSW and the emergence of evidence about its clinical management."

She said NSW Health and all local health districts were continuing to work with clinicians to monitor demand on health services on an ongoing basis.

Ramsay Health Care is the largest private hospital operator in Australia and owns St George Private Hospital at Kogarah and Kareena Private Hospital at Caringbah. It did not respond to Leader phonecalls requesting a comment.