Springborg dials-up a second opinion on hospital award dispute

By Paul Hemsley

A controversial plan to try and move Queensland’s entire public hospital senior medical staff onto individual workplace contracts by 1st July 2014 is continuing to generate indigestion after the state’s Health Minister Lawrence Springborg claimed the new deal had “a tick of approval” from Visiting Medical Officers.

As new the draft contract was formally revealed by Mr Springborg this week, the Newman government has upped the ante in the industrial dispute by calling upon its well-established LNP links within the medical fraternity to help sell the new deal and deflect mounting criticism.

Mr Springborg said that “the spokesperson representing Queensland Health’s Visiting Medical Officers, Dr Ross Cartmill, has endorsed the new draft contract structure following months of constructive debate and negotiation.”

While the path from representing the medical profession to conservative-minded political candidature is a well-trodden one, the statements attributed to Dr Cartmill – a former LNP candidate – have infuriated Queensland’s Australian Medical Association (AMA Queensland) and the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation Queensland (ASMOFQ).

ASMOFQ President Dr Nick Buckmaster has branded the new contracts as “Workchoices by stealth” and said the remove basic rights such as unfair dismissal and dispute resolution through the Industrial Commission, with no available information about how doctors’ work hours or entitlements such as superannuation will change.

However Mr Springborg said that Dr Cartmill’s endorsement recognises of the benefits of moving away from awards and agreements as outlined in the Blueprint for Better Healthcare in Queensland.

“These new contracts will help ensure VMOs continue to provide specialty services in rural and remote facilities and clinical and teaching services to metropolitan hospitals well into the future,” Mr Springborg said.

Even if the new deal is good for VMOs, other doctors are still not buying it.

AMA Queensland’s primary concern is that deficiencies in the contracts potentially threaten the foundation of a “sustainable” and “well-engaged” public medical workforce.

AMA Queensland President Dr Christian Rowan said Queensland Health expects thousands of senior doctors to abandon their award conditions and workplace agreements to “sign up for a great unknown”.

“Offering different rates of pay to new and junior doctors could be disastrous for attracting and retaining staff in public hospitals and senior doctors who refuse to sign the contracts are not guaranteed a redundancy so they can like it or lump it,” Dr Rowan said.

Mr Rowan told Government News that the last thing that Queensland needs is any reduction of doctors working in the public system or reducing their hours because it risks affecting clinical service delivery.

“If we don’t retain senior doctors in the public hospital system, well they won’t be there to train or mentor the next generation of doctors that are needed for regional or rural Queensland,” Dr Rowan said.

Dr Buckmaster is similarly sceptical.

“Such colossal uncertainty is bad for the health system and bad for patients,” Dr Buckmaster said.

With Julian Bajkowski

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