Northern Tasmania has within its grasp the chance to build one of the best regional health systems in Australia, but only if we listen and respond to the needs and expectations of the community.
The platform for creating this benchmark health care system is the proposed development by Calvary Tasmania of a new co-located hospital alongside the Launceston General Hospital, replacing the existing St Vincent's and St Luke's campuses.
Given the development is so critically important, we asked our members to tell us what they thought of the plan for the new hospital and what they hoped it might deliver in terms of improved health care services.
The response can best be described as staggering.
The community experience of the northern Tasmanian healthcare system reveals a deeply disturbing service gap that must be bridged.
Many patients have been left with a life-long burden - physical, emotional, financial and often all three - because they couldn't access the level of health care they needed, when and where they needed it.
The enormity of the problem, and the level of trust members placed in St.LukesHealth by revealing their stories across the system, imposed a responsibility on us to lobby hard for change.
We were determined to make sure the opportunity to reset health services in northern Tasmania was tackled strategically and collaboratively, and in a way that set it up for the best possible chance to successfully meet the needs of our community.
From what our members told us we identified two core requirements:
First and foremost, there must be a greater range of services available to the people of northern Tasmania as well as a significant improvement in those services already available.
We need a major increase in healthcare system capacity to meet the future needs of north and north-west communities.
As the proposed co-located hospital will be developed without the normal tender process, Calvary has a moral obligation as a monopoly provider to deliver desperately needed services for northern Tasmania irrespective of either the challenge or cost involved.
While Calvary is a not-for-profit, charitable organisation, running a hospital is also a business, and private providers should not have the autonomy to pick and choose those services that deliver the most profit.
One example of this is the ongoing negotiations around a private emergency department.
While we accept that a top-level private ED right next to the LGH is not the most efficient use of resources, there is a critical need for an urgent care service at the co-located hospital.
This service would handle serious, but not life-threatening cases, working in tandem to relieve pressure on the LGH to treat genuine emergencies.
This will result in better access for all - private health members or not - as it will redirect those patients presenting to the ED simply because there is nowhere else to go.
Calvary's proposed "extended care service" must be an urgent care facility at the absolute minimum.
Another after-hours GP service is not enough.
Emerging technology available in the south must also be provided at a new northern hospital.
This is a major factor in attracting healthcare professionals; it is hard to entice surgeons to regional health care hubs without the facilities they require.
Many surgeons also work across public and private facilities, often on the same day.
It will be much more efficient for patients, specialists and equipment to move between two connected hospitals.
The co-location also presents an opportunity for the public and private systems to collaborate on research and education.
This is another factor when it comes to retaining the best practitioners, who need professional development opportunities through teaching and research.
Co-location could both allow available space and strengthened partnerships to deliver this.
A new private hospital, co-located with the LGH, will not necessarily be a silver bullet for health care across the north of the state, because simply doing the same thing in a new building will not offer additional community benefits.
The feedback from our members highlighted important community care needs that are not currently being met, some of which may not be best suited to a hospital setting.
These services are challenging to get right, such as chronic pain or hospice care.
Some fall beyond the scope of Calvary's proposal, and we applaud the Department of Health for exploring how best they can be delivered.
We must ensure the community gets the right service, in the right setting, with the right outcome.
The co-located hospital will be a rare opportunity to increase and improve acute hospital care, but we need to be more expansive in our thinking and preventatively address health issues much earlier in the patient journey.
It is not about one provider offering everything and being stretched too thin.
St.LukesHealth is advocating for a collaborative, well-functioning network of health care services.
We need one health care system where public and private cooperate, ensuring everyone has better access to the services they need.
If we can get these fundamentals right, we are in the box seat to establish a regional health care system in northern Tasmania that is without equal.
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