ST John of God Bendigo Hospital is asking staff to voluntarily give up hours as its business growth fails to live up to expectations following a $41 million redevelopment.

In an email to staff, chief executive Trevor Matheson cited rising competition as a reason to “recalibrate our workforce to ensure that our hospital is positioned to continue to operate in an efficient and sustainable way”.

In contrast, Bendigo Health’s new $630m hospital which is being opened today by Premier Daniel Andrews, received a 34 per cent boost to its operating budget due to increased patient numbers.

Mr Matheson sought to downplay the effect of Bendigo hospital on its business, saying St John’s had experienced sound growth since 2017, but lower “than we expected in our first year and we need to respond to that”.

He told staff that “escalating operating costs”, a common challenge for many other private hospitals, also factored.

The hospital has asked staff to consider volunteering for options including redundancy, early retirement, a reduction in hours, taking leave, reclassification or converting to casual.

“Unfortunately, despite best endeavours, the predicted growth for our new redevelopment has not yet been fully realised,” Mr Matheson wrote.

“The review has led to the decision to remodel our current workforce arrangements for some departments.

“Regrettably, this means we need to reduce the number of worked hours (and in some cases the number of care givers) that we currently have within those departments.”

St John of God has experienced a sharp decline in the number of births in recent years, even before the new hospital opened for business in January 2017 and almost immediately suffered a shortage of midwives.

A service page on the hospital’s website shows births dropped from 440 in 2012-13 to 347 in 2016-17, but the hospital is about to start a complete refurbishment of its birthing suites during which the maternity ward will continue to operate.

Over the same period, procedures and patient numbers increased.

The St John redevelopment built a new three-storey wing, two new integrated operating theatres and a large theatre recovery unit, a new sterilising department and refurbished all bedrooms, front entrance, atrium and day procedure unit.

The hospital also expanded its rehabilitation and geriatric patient services.

Mr Matheson told the Bendigo Weekly planning for healthcare, particularly when it involved new infrastructure, had a long-term horizon and took into account demographic projections, health needs forecasting and a range of other factors.

“Our goal is to ensure that we are able to meet the future demands of the Bendigo community, and respond and adapt in the short term to market fluctuations,” he said.

“Over time, as the population and corresponding healthcare requirements continue to grow, we expect growth to even out.

“Our goal is to work with Bendigo Base Hospital to ensure that we jointly meet the needs of Bendigo and the surrounding areas and ensure that they have the option of care closer to home.

“We believe in a dual and interdependent hospital system.

“Its our view that a healthy and vibrant private healthcare system takes pressure off public hospitals, provides consumers with greater choice and by working in tandem with the public healthcare system, ensures equity of access to health services for all.

“Redundancy is always our last option and our preference is to provide other options to staff that may suit them better and to work through those options to determine viability.

“This approach takes more time and we are finalising our model based on the preferences we have received.”

– Sharon Kemp