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02 Dec 2013

Senior members of the medical profession from across the country have united in their condemnation of the Queensland Government’s decision to force Senior Medical Officers in the State’s public hospital system onto individual contracts that strip them of basic workplace rights and protections.

The AMA Federal Council, which brings together senior members of the medical profession from all the states, territories and specialty groups, as well as representatives of doctors in training, salaried medical officers and medical students, has unanimously resolved to oppose the Queensland Government’s decision to introduce the “unfair and unbalanced” contracts from 1 July 2014.

At a meeting late last month, the Council considered the changes and resolved to condemn them as a retrograde step that would harm doctors and patients in Queensland public hospitals.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said a succession of enterprise agreements covering Queensland’s Senior Medical Officers had been instrumental in enabling the State to overcome a long-standing shortage of doctors in the public hospital system.

Dr Hambleton warned that the shift to unfair individual contracts that did away with key employment provisions and protections risked an exodus of senior medical staff that would threaten to undo recent advances in access to care.

“The proposed new individual contracts will strip away key employment rights and undermine the progress Queensland has made in growing its public sector medical workforce,” the AMA President said.

The contracts remove key fatigue measures such as mandated rest breaks and limits on hours, as well as denying access to protections such as unfair dismissal, dispute resolution and grievance procedures.

Queensland Health’s problems attracting and retaining senior medical staff came to a head in the middle of last decade with revelations about the conduct of Bundaberg Base Hospital head of surgery Dr Jayant Patel.

Dr Patel was last month given a two-year suspended sentence after being convicted on several counts of fraud after misrepresenting his experience and qualifications, and his case drew attention to the risks involved in relying heavily on overseas recruits to fill gaps in the medical workforce.

Following the scandal, Queensland Health substantially upgraded employment conditions for public hospital medical staff, boosting its ability to recruit and retain staff.

Dr Hambleton said the move to draconian individual contracts was a retrograde step that would undermine the progress that had been made, and must be reversed.

The harm the Government’s policy will inflict on the Queensland’s ability to attract and retain staff has already become apparent.

New Zealand’s Association of Salaried Medical Specialists has issued an extraordinary warning to its members, urging them to “steer clear” of any offers to work in Queensland.

The Association’s Executive Director Ian Powell wrote to members urging them to “strongly reconsider” plans to work in Queensland public hospitals, cautioning that “if you take up a position…you will have fewer rights, fewer protections and less negotiating strength”.

The warning is particularly significant because New Zealand has become an important source of senior medical staff for Queensland’s public hospitals in the past six years.

Dr Hambleton called on the Queensland Government to reconsider its plans.

“The Federal AMA urges the Queensland Government to abandon its proposed changes and work with AMA Queensland and the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation to reach employment arrangements that work best for the doctors, their patients and the Queensland health system,” he said.

“Any loss of senior doctors from the public hospital system would limit patient access to medical care, and make it harder to train the next generation of doctors entering the system to provide care for Queenslanders.”

Adrian Rollins


Published: 02 Dec 2013