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.
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.