It was an astonishing attack not merely on free speech but on basic freedoms — a demand to extend the draconian Sydney lockout laws that have inflicted major economic damage on Sydney business nationwide and target a group of businesses with punitive measures.

The Catholic not-for-profit organisation that runs St Vincent’s hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne issued a series of demands to political parties on Tuesday, in effect calling for the nationwide imposition of the Baird government’s inner-Sydney lockout laws, which have shuttered inner-city venues and turned the streets of Sydney into a ghost town late at night.

Not content with that, St Vincent’s wants to end all sporting-related alcohol advertising on free-to-air television, taxes to increase the price of alcohol to deter consumption and rules to ban or close liquor stores. If implemented, the proposals would represent the most savage attack on basic rights in a generation and the greatest nanny state intervention ever seen in Australia, extending from free speech to planning laws, taxation and controls on business. It would cause thousands of hospitality workers, arts and recreation industry workers and taxi and Uber drivers to lose jobs or income and close hundreds of business across the country when, as St Vincent’s itself admits, alcohol consumption has fallen markedly in recent years, as has binge drinking among young people.

So too has violence in Sydney, as well, which fell dramatically in the years leading up to the Coalition government’s lockout laws, imposed as a result of an hysterical and deceitful campaign by Fairfax and News Corp. Doctors at St Vincent’s in Sydney were prominent in their support for this campaign.

But let’s look a little closer at St Vincent’s and see how entitled it is to attempt to control the rest of the country.

When it comes to financial performance, St Vincent’s in Sydney is a shocker: according to the data at myhospitals.gov.au, which provides data on hospital performance, its costs in 2013-14 were 9% higher than peer hospitals. It was higher than Royal Prince Alfred, much higher than Westmead, higher than Royal North Shore, higher than Bankstown Lidcombe, Canterbury, Sutherland or St George — in fact, it’s one of the costliest and least efficient large public hospitals in Sydney.

But worse than finance is its safety performance. Its bloodstream infection rate is just under twice as high as the average of its peers: 2.32 infections per 10,000 bed days of patient care compared to an average of 1.28 among its peers. In comparison, RPA is below its peer average, Westmead slightly higher (1.49), Prince of Wales slightly higher (1.39); Sutherland is just on its peer average, St George just above (1.44), while Royal North Shore is below average. Indeed, St Vincent’s Sydney had the third-highest infection rate of any hospital covered by the myhospitals dataset in the whole country, and the highest major hospital infection rate

St Vincent’s in Melbourne isn’t too flash either. Its infection rate is 1.47 — certainly better than St Vincent’s Sydney, but above Royal Melbourne (1.35), Footscray (1.31) and well above the Alfred (1.13) — in fact it’s the third-highest in Victoria.

That’s before we get to one of the most serious medical scandals of recent years, the underdosing of scores of chemotherapy patients at St Vincent’s in Sydney between 2012 and 2015 and St Vincent’s repeated, misleading statements to the public about the scandal and its handling of it — including an astonishing failure to tell victims, most of whom found out about their mistreatment via the media. St Vincent’s was forced to apologise for the debacle, and the full number of victims and the death toll from the underdosing is still not known.

St Vincent’s in Sydney is one of the least efficient and least safe major hospitals in Sydney, which presided over a disgraceful scandal involving scores of victims that it subsequently lied about. And yet it feels able to demand that the rest of community comply with its diktats on free speech, taxation and business restrictions. Perhaps it should concentrate on getting its own house in order first before lecturing others.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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