Medihotels another health decision that does not stack up

October 27, 2023 5:00 AM
Libby Mettam
WA Liberal Leader

They were supposed to be the panacea for bed block plaguing the health system. 

WA Labor’s 2017 election pledge to build three Medihotels in the State was sold to Western Australians as an innovative way to “free up hospital beds so more patients can be treated.”

The concept allows low-acuity and pre and post-operative patients to be discharged from hospital to a bed nearby where they can recover.  

The Labor election spin said 54 tertiary beds would be freed up every day in 2017-18 so 5,262 more patients could be treated in our hospitals each year.

Except this hasn’t happened and it likely won’t. 

Almost seven years after making that pledge, only one Medihotel has been opened at a cost of $1.6million to taxpayers.

It consists of four beds at Royal Perth Hospital and for the 12 months to April this year, the average occupancy was 43 per cent.

Four beds in almost seven years and less than two are being used on average.

Which perhaps explains why the failed former Health Minister and now Premier Roger Cook started crab walking back the promise to build a second one at Joondalup Health Campus in 2021. 

Through questioning in Parliament, he said the Joondalup Medihotel remained “part of the vision for the hospital” but there was no date for commencement and no construction timeframe. 

By 2022 the new Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson told Parliament;

When looking at the drivers of demand at Joondalup Health Campus, we could see there were a range of drivers and it was determined that alternative models needed to be explored for Joondalup to manage those drivers…”

Government speak for the Joondalup Medihotel plans have been binned, the business case didn’t stack up, please stop asking about it. 

Which is why the plans and model for the Murdoch Medihotel, due to open next year after multiple delays, is raising many questions, if not more red flags, about how decisions are being made, and by whom, within the health portfolio.

Ironically, given Labor’s ideological chest-beating about the evils of privatisation, the Murdoch facility is being built by Fini-owned developer Hesperia, with private operator Aegis. 

It was originally slated to be a 60-bed facility but through FOI documents obtained by media, it’s been revealed the WA Labor Government has signed a $55 million four-year deal for 80 beds at the facility.

Which was apparently news to the South Metropolitan Health Service (SMHS) chief executive Paul Forden who runs Fiona Stanley Hospital and Fremantle Hospital.

The SMHS audit suggested only 40 Medihotel beds would be needed for both hospitals.

They apparently don’t have the level of low acuity patients that could use a Medihotel to justify a 60-bed facility, let alone an 80-bed one. 

The extra beds were signed off by Roger Cook on the back of a business case written by Aegis, seemingly without consultation with Mr Forden or the South Metro Health Service.  

Yes, the private operator has apparently written a business case saying the State needs an extra 20 beds and the government signed off without consulting with the head of that health service on whether they need them.

You honestly can’t make this stuff up. The outlined use of the beds is also questionable. 

The business case, again written by Aegis without clinical consultation, estimated the agreement would comprise 40 nursing supervised beds, 20 mental health beds, 12 medically supervised beds and eight patient accommodation beds. 

When advised of the contract, Mr Forden requested permission to negotiate different bed uses for the extra beds including 20 for eating disorder patients where there is a critical need.

But that would change the service agreement so it’s unclear whether they will actually be used for patients that need them most.

Apparently, the negotiations are ongoing but the current Health Minister said “value for money is assured” and it was not unusual when procuring public services from private facilities that business cases were not required. 

This is a project that has been talked about since 2017. I suspect it didn’t take long once elected for WA Labor to realise the concept did not stack up. None of the 10 Medihotels opened in Victoria are still operating. 

But now they are committed, it beggars belief that Labor didn’t at least consult with health experts on the services being proposed to ensure they align with patient needs before signing off on a $55 million contract funded by taxpayers.

The parallels in the way the decision was made and the one to move the Women and Babies Hospital from the QEII site in Nedlands to Murdoch are obvious. 

There is clearly a pattern of decision-making by a government that thinks it knows better than our most experienced health clinicians and doesn’t care what the outcomes are, with the Premier even claiming concerns were “alarmist rot”.

Reckless or incompetent, it’s hard to tell, but what is clear is this is a government that continues to operate with a total disregard for patient-centred care and a lack of respect for the expertise and experience of our health experts in informing these decisions. 

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