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Hospital staff harness new media for public protest

The staff at Katoomba Hospital (in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney) – or at least some of them – have clearly had enough. In the cyberworld equivalent of taking to the streets, they’ve launched an anonymous blog to tell the public what their bosses won’t let them speak about in public.

Katoomba Hospital staff - new media activists
Katoomba Hospital staff – new media activists

You could see it as a measure of the anger and frustration that many doctors, nurses and other health professionals feel about the NSW health system and those charged with running it – including the managers, bureaucrats and State Government.

And you could also see it as a fascinating example of the potential offered by new media for breaking down some of the political and bureaucratic barriers that inhibit open public discussion about the health system. This problem is, of course, not only an issue in NSW. All health departments – federal, state and territory – do an excellent job of keeping the clamps on tight – threatening staff who speak out publicly with sanctions.

It may seem a bit over the top for the Katoomba staffers to be comparing themselves to those who confronted the tanks in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago. No doubt this reflects both the sense of fear and solidarity that the staffers are experiencing. No doubt as well that the Ministerial and bureaucratic tanks will be on their way west soon, if they’re not already.

I asked the bloggers if I could interview someone about the campaign. But they declined, saying they had to remain anonymous, and sent this email:

“As you no doubt will appreciate, the key to our survival is anonymity. Basically, the role of our blog “Who Will Speak For Us?” is to leak information out to the community which they can verify themselves. We have a strong community based lobby group here in the Blue Mountains (HEAL- The Health Equity Access Lobby) whose work has saved Maternity Services at the Hospital.

Because of the gagging of staff, we were unable to let them know what was going on in the Mental Health Unit, Rehab Unit, Theatres, and Kiosk. Some of the staff got together and came up with the idea of an anonymous blog in order to leak information so that the Community knows what questions to ask.

For instance, five beds were closed in the Mental Health Unit since May this year, but the Community did not know until August when we posted it on our blog. They were able to verify these facts by asking the Hospital and Area Health Services.

If we break the anonymity, the staff who have come forward will stop coming forward. You have to realise that everyone in the Executive of the Sydney West Area Health Service who has said “trust me” and has betrayed that trust, so we have to operate the way partisans do.”

It will be interesting to watch the impact of this campaign; will it make any difference; will it galvanise community activism; will we see some copycats springing up; will there be new clauses in employment contracts banning the use of online media?

PostScript:  The bloggers are claiming credit for this local headline in the Blue Mountains Gazette.

Comments 5

  1. Doctor Whom says:

    “..you could also see it as a fascinating example of the potential offered by new media for breaking down some of the political and bureaucratic barriers that inhibit open public discussion about the health system…”

    Or you could see it as an online version of a 1970’s student union shitsheet by the Trots – full of self righteous revolutionary vanguard fervor, with words like “democracy” , “human Rights” and so on.

    I don’t know anything about Katoomba Hospital – for all I know it might be an overstaffed, unsafe, low quality place without adequate equipment, skills or patients to sustain the old style fiefdoms and cushy jobs for locals –

    or it might well be a lean, efficient but friendly high quality service at the cutting edge of modern healthcare being done over by ignorant and vindictive NSW bureaucrats..

    or it might be a normal good enough caring and important service being unfairly hit by a one size fits all downsizing by central office..?

    Unfortunately blogs like to one the staff have up don’t offer us anything to judge the facts at all.

    It is a pity – because a few facts from the inside could help their case – or not perhaps.

  2. Donkey Hotay says:

    Doctor Whom wrote:
    “Unfortunately blogs like to one the staff have up don’t offer us anything to judge the facts at all. ”
    I think you have missed the point. If you read the blog and the email, the blog doesn’t exist to provide information for YOU all, so its quite pointless judging it on that basis. What would be the point of informing YOU of what is going on in the hospital? What are YOU going to do about it? Do YOU even care? The blog’s stated purpose is to inform the local community which the hospital serves who DO care and CAN do something about it. And it is working:
    http://www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au/news/local/news/general/katoomba-hospital-bed-closures/1643556.aspx

  3. Joanna Mendelssohn says:

    Just in case you think the staff at Katoomba are being a tad paranoid about going public with their problems with poor management, take a look at today’s SMH http://www.smh.com.au/national/jaccuse-traducing-a-critic-20091009-gqu3.html

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Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences
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2019 Conferences
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