Calvary committed to serving the Territory | Martin Bowles

Opinion Editorial | Martin Bowles, Calvary National CEO

This week the ACT Government announced that it would no longer consult with us, its long-term partner in health care for 44 years, and instead would rather move to enact special legislation to compulsorily acquire our land and remove Calvary as the operator of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce. Calvary is astounded that a proposal, which has material implications for us and our staff, as well as the Canberra community, would proceed without any detailed consultation. This type of unexpected and unilateral decision making by the government is cause for concern.

In May 2022, Calvary commenced negotiations in good faith and invested considerable time to reach a compromise with the government. Since November there has been no correspondence from the government. Yet two days before making an announcement to the public, they advised us that they would introduce a Bill in parliament to effectively circumvent commercial negotiations and achieve by way of legislation the outcome they wanted.

This announcement by the ACT Government is concerning. That they would simply legislate to terminate contracts or default on their obligations to a long-term, trusted business partner without consultation is alarming. Anyone with long-term arrangements with the government should also be concerned. Add to this the timeline they have proposed to make this all happen. A transition date of 3 July 2023 is less than eight weeks from the date of initial advice to Calvary, and a mere four and a half weeks from the earliest potential date the Bill can pass.

The timeline is unrealistic and the detail is scant. Calvary only received the draft Bill at 1pm, after the government’s public announcement and we have not had the opportunity to consider the draft Bill in any meaningful way. From what we can see, the government is yet to propose an offer for the land they want to compulsorily acquire out from under our feet. Unless those details are made available to Calvary, it will be difficult to commence planning for a transition of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce to the government.

Outside of the two negotiators, Calvary and the government, are the two most important stakeholders in all of this: our 1800 staff at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce and the tens of thousands of patients we care for. A critical announcement about one of Canberra’s major public hospitals that is so short on detail is disrespectful and compromises patient and staff safety.

Safety is our number one priority at Calvary. For our staff this is enabled through meaningful engagement in operational changes. The proposed timeline for the transition of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce to Canberra Health Services does not allow for genuine consultation to occur and creates a direct risk to our operations, our workforce and ultimately to the people we provide care for. We demand a well-managed and considered transition that also recognises the value of the efforts of our staff. If we fail to provide that security to our staff, there is a risk of disenfranchising those we rely upon to deliver the essential health care Calvary has become known for and relied upon for in the Territory. Put simply, this rushed proposal will create uncertainty and could lead to attrition. This will have a direct impact on Calvary’s ability to care for people safely. I will not stand by and let our people down or put patient safety at risk.

Calvary has a reputation for providing quality and compassionate care to the Territory. We have been doing that for more than 44 years. Clearly this decision by the government is driven by their own policies and it has nothing to do with the public health service that Calvary provides. The suggestion that Calvary’s proposal during negotiations prevents the delivery of a publicly owned hospital providing an accessible, accountable and sustainable health system is unfounded.

In recent weeks, the ACT Government has misrepresented the services offered by Calvary, perpetuated a myth that we deliver care with an “overriding religious ethos” and “with implicit moral judgement”, and now suggests our role in public health does not meet the objectives of the Canberra Health Service or serve the people well. I reject these notions and want to assure the public that Calvary strongly supports negotiating the continued operation of the public hospital at Bruce by Calvary and will maintain its practice of negotiating in good faith.