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College warned off push to make trainees work long hours


Suggestions that surgical trainees work extra hours without overtime to accumulate necessary clinical experience have been firmly rebuffed by hospital doctors.

The Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation (ASMOF) has issued a stern warning to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) that proposals to remove award protection for surgical trainees and make them work extended hours would be fiercely resisted by its members.

Earlier this year the RACS raised concerns that existing industrial arrangements were preventing surgical trainees from accumulating clinical experience the College deemed necessary, and suggested that they be ‘carved out’ of industrial agreements so they could work extended hours without overtime pay.

The RACS subsequently indicated it had dropped the idea when it was met with vigorous objections from the AMA.

But ASMOF President Dr Tony Sara has raised concerns that, despite this assurance, College officials in Queensland are continuing to pursue the proposal in discussions with Queensland Health ahead of the negotiation of a collective agreement for junior medical officers in the State, and that College staff have made similar approaches to Western Australian health authorities.

“ASMOF does not perceive that it is in the interests of patients, its members, or of the profession, that the proposal proceeds,” Dr Sara said in a letter to RACS President Professor Michael Grigg last month. “Similarly, ASMOF is firmly of the view that the overwhelming majority of doctors in training would not support it either.”

Dr Sara said his organisation objected to the idea both on safety and equity grounds.

“ASMOF bases its objections…on the increased patient risk arising from fatigue and the increased risk for harm to medical practitioners working unsafe hours, including a reduced ability to learn when fatigued,” he wrote.

He said ASMOF would resist “any move to establish payment for work performed outside of established industrial penalty rates, both from the perspective of equity with other employees, and from the realistic risk of employers imposing excessive, and thus unrealistic, workloads through inadequate staffing levels”.

Adrian Rollins