The following is an article by the Huon News, originally published on Wednesday, 3 April 2019. Republished here with permission.
At the Ordinary Meeting of the Huon Valley Council (HVC) in March, it was resolved to postpone the vote on whether to proceed with the sale of the Cygnet Medical Centre until the April meeting, as, at present, there is insufficient information available for councillors to make a fully informed decision on whether the sale is in the best interests of the community.
In September last year, under former commissioner Adriana Taylor, the HVC made a revised resolution to sell the Cygnet Medical Centre under an expression of interest process, in the face of strong objections from key stakeholders (Cygnet Family Practice and the South East Tasmania Aboriginal Corporation) to the original recommendation from HVC staff to sell the facility to existing lessee (Huon Valley Health Centre).
Following a community information session held at the Carmel Hall last month, the HVC unanimously resolved last Wednesday to await presentation of all facts and information at the April Ordinary Meeting, where councillors will vote on whether to proceed with the proposed sale, in order to ensure that the interests of the wider Cygnet and Huon Valley community, as well as the interests of the HVC, are incorporated into the decision making process.
The Cygnet Medical Centre was originally built in 2012, under a Federal Government Health and Hospitals grant, on land provided by the HVC, which is part of the 2.5 hectare parcel of land known as the Old School Farm in George Street.
The HVC initially became healthcare providers when the Geeveston Medical Centre was established, at a time when the town’s long serving GP, Dr George Mellefont, retired and was unable to find a replacement doctor for the town.
The Geeveston Medical Centre, along with the Dover Medical Centre, have been run successfully by council since that time, with no private general practices in operation in either of those towns. In 2012, Cygnet was also expecting two of its three doctors to retire, however, this did not eventuate, which meant that the HVC operated Cygnet Medical Centre effectively wound up competing against three private GPs.The HVC was unable to secure the services of a longterm practitioner and the quality of health services provided by the Cygnet Medical Centre was affected by a succession of locums passing through the practice.
At the end of 2016, the HVC called for expressions of interest from private operators to provide medical services from the Cygnet Medical Centre in accordance with the Federal Government’s funding agreement, which is in effect until 2032. At least two local medical practices submitted an expression of interest, Cygnet Family Practice (who were outgrowing their existing space in the Cygnet Community Health Centre) and Huon Valley Health Centre (who were looking to expand their practice from Huonville into Cygnet). Huon Valley Health Centre was successful in its tender, and signed a five year lease with the HVC to operate the Cygnet Medical Centre in February 2017, effective until February 2022.
The HVC asserts that the risk to council of having to fulfil obligations to the Federal Government should the private operator pull out of the lease agreement, or of having to repay a significant portion of the original grant funding should they be unable to fulfil the funding obligations, is significant.
Around 40 community members, including Councillor Paul Gibson, Councillor Christine Campbell, Rosalie Woodruff MP and Alison Standen MP, attended the HVC information session in Cygnet last month. Objections were raised by a number of community members, suggesting that the sale was not in the community’s best interest and was short sighted.
The HVC confirmed that the practice was attracting a commercial rate of rent, and said at the March council meeting that council’s financial position for the property will be ascertained and a briefing will be provided to councillors for consideration for public release.
At the HVC Cygnet community information session held at the Cygnet Town Hall last Thursday evening, community members again urged council not to proceed with the sale of the Cygnet Medical Centre as it is a valuable public asset, and could become even more valuable in the future, especially in relation to any potential development of the Old School Farm. The HVC has also engaged a surveyor to prepare subdivision plans for a title for the Cygnet Medical Centre to separate it from the balance of the Old School Farm parcel, and plans to subdivide will be lodged shortly. The Cygnet Township Association has undertaken some community consultation on future development opportunities for the Old School Farm land, and council say they will use this as the basis of engagement that they will undertake in the future.