‘Witch hunt’ claims

SOCIAL WORKERS at Fremantle Hospital say management has ordered media handlers to track down and “hang, draw and quarter” a whistleblower who spoke to the Herald last week.

Our front page story, “Freo jobs go”—based on sources reporting back to us what had been told to shell-shocked staff at meetings—resulted in a flurry of activity from health mandarins and the Barnett government, with claims it was a misunderstanding and jobs were safe.

“There is no witch hunt,” hospital chief David Blythe says. “I am not aware of any such instruction being made, nor have I personally asked any staff member, including media representatives, to locate the staff member who spoke to the Fremantle Herald.

“Fremantle hospital has no intention of trying to locate the person who spoke to the Herald and any claims to the contrary are untrue.”

The Health Services Union says hundreds of social workers and occupational therapists employed in mental health in Fremantle, Bentley, Armadale and Rockingham are expected to be redeployed or lose their jobs as part of Fremantle’s downsizing for the new Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Fremantle will shrink from an acute tertiary 450-bed hospital to a 300-bed specialist hospital under the “reconfiguration”.

With reports the FSH budget has blown out from $2 billion to $3 billion, and WA debt in a parlous position, staff fear razor gangs have been ordered to slash spending wherever possible.

Staff reported to the Herald they’d been told the allied health budget was to be cut 37 per cent, and they’d been issued memos asking them to say what the impact would be on patient care if their job no longer existed, but management now says it is simply “defining what workforce is necessary” for the FSH move. “We cannot afford to lose people from mental health,” says the source who contacted the Herald last week. “We already suffer under stretched resources … people will die.”

HSU assistant secretary Chris Panizza told the Herald: “They’re definitely cutting staff. We’re trying to find out how many and where.” He says the union knows of members threatened following our article.

Dr Blythe says he doesn’t usually respond to newspaper articles but felt, “I owed it to all hospital staff to provide some factual information in order to ease the concerns I am told the article has generated”.

In a statement titled, “Correcting inaccuracies—Factual information for all staff” he says a “commissioning team” is finalising plans for the hospital’s new role. This includes “consulting with clinical and non-clinical staff to finalise these service delivery models and defining what workforce is necessary to continue to deliver safe and quality healthcare to all of our patients as a specialist hospital”.

He says it is disappointing last week’s article did not, “accurately reflect the true nature of the mature discussions” that took place at the staff forum.

“It is also my view that the vast majority of staff here understand that the new hospital will be different and that some roles will change or relocate. It is worth reiterating that staff permanently employed by south metro will not lose their employment as a result of reconfiguration.”

The union plans a series of stop-work meetings in the next few weeks.

Mental health minister Helen Morton says with the opening of the new hospital, “some reconfiguration of mental health services at Fremantle hospital is necessary”.


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