Former Health Minister Dr Michael Wooldridge has just joined one of the fastest growing companies in the nation, Aspen Medical, which is riding the wave of privatisation of Australia healthcare.

With a turnover of around $40 million, the company was this year ranked number two on the BRW fastest growing start-up companies.

Along with contracts to supply healthcare services to the defence forces and others, Aspen Medical is a private medical company which manages the Emergency Department of a public hospital in Caboolture, just north of Brisbane.
In one of the first deals of this kind, the Queensland government pays the private company more than $7 million a year to run the public hospital’s Emergency Department, reportedly twice as much as it would cost if run by the public sector.

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In an interview with Crikey, Managing Director of Glenn Keys confirmed the figures, but would not reveal the size of Aspen Medical’s profit margin. All staff were paid in accordance with the awards, he said.

Aspen Medical won the $7 million contract in a “closed tender” situation last year, against a backdrop of controversy about the tender process and the unprecedented privatisation within a public hospital.

Dr Wooldridge joined the board of Aspen Medical just a few weeks ago, much to the pleasure of Keys: “He has a terrific understanding of the private and public health sector, and a wealth of knowledge in terms of the health economy.”

Wooldridge was the Minister for Health in the Howard Government from 1996 until his retirement in 2001, a time which saw a burgeoning private health insurance sector, along with creeping privatisation and corporatisation of the health sector more generally.

Since resigning as Minister, the Melbourne-based Wooldridge has taken up several positions in the private health sector as well as pro-bono work for not-for-profits. He was a pro-bono director of Research Australia, an organisation founded in large part on drug company money; he is currently a director of Cogstate, a company which contracts to drug companies among others; and he is also a director of API, which owns brands like the giant pharmacy chains Soul Pattinson and Priceline Pharmacy. Wooldridge is also chair of Prime Trust, a company that will list on the stock exchange later this week for more than $500 million.

Asked if the privately-run public emergency ward could be a sign of things to come, Wooldridge told Crikey: “Private management in public hospitals is more acceptable than total and wholesale tendering out to private sector.”

Singing the praises of the privatised Emergency Department to a gathering in Sydney two weeks ago, Wooldridge told an anecdote about how the first thing Aspen Medical did was spend $50 on a sorely needed printer. He described it as a great investment in “good will”. With an annual contract worth $7 million, it’s no wonder Aspen Medical could afford the fifty bucks.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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