Issue 1 / 17 January 2011

THE Australian Defence Force acknowledges that all three services currently have vacancies for permanent medical officers.

Defence is able to provide health services support to our current operations and to meet likely contingencies.

While the current number of medical officers is below the establishment figures, these deficiencies have been managed through the use of contracted health practitioners within the garrison health services provided in Australia.

The difficulty in recruiting and retaining medical personnel is primarily due to an overall shortage of qualified healthcare providers nationally and internationally.

The separation rate of medical officers across the army, navy and air force services is consistent with the overall separation rate for ADF personnel.

Defence has recognised this shortage and we have taken a number of steps to address this issue.

A new salary and career structure was implemented for all ADF medical officers last year.

This increased remuneration recognises the change in skills and responsibilities and acknowledges the specialised nature of the work of ADF medical officers.

The competency structure for medical officers was revised to include more increments at competency levels 2, 3 and 4 to recognise the additional value of medical officers who attain relevant postgraduate and specialisation qualifications.

The federal government has approved a new policy proposal to train and retain full-time specialist doctors in the ADF.

This will be addressed in the next few months when new programs are introduced that focus on expanding career paths and training opportunities, as well as on providing greater work flexibility.

Defence is also improving the way in which specialist officers (including health professionals) are recruited.

This includes targeted marketing strategies, candidate experience days and the establishment of specialist recruitment teams.

Defence is not using less-skilled doctors to support operational capability.

Joint Health Command, which provides health care and ensures Defence personnel are prepared for operations, continues to provide the highest quality health care to all ADF personnel across all Defence establishments.

The contracted health staff currently being employed to supplement ADF health practitioners are highly professional and trained to the required standard.

They are employed under conditions set by Defence, and Joint Health Command has a robust credentialling system to ensure that contractors meet the mandatory Defence standards.

Health practitioners contracted to Defence are not required to provide health care in a deployed setting, but their availability within garrison health facilities in Australia ensures that ADF medical practitioners are able to be deployed both overseas and within Australia.

Prior to deploying on operations, all ADF doctors undertake advanced trauma life support training, ensuring that they are able to deliver the highest quality of care to all personnel while on operations.

In areas of operation that are considered stable but require long-term health support, Defence may contract resuscitation and/or surgical support services to civilian agencies.

ADF health services personnel have a well deserved reputation for being highly skilled and professional health care providers.

This reputation has been earned through their strong performance in many operations in Australia and around the world since the Boer War.

There is no evidence to suggest that there is a morale problem among ADF medical officers or that there are widespread concerns that medical officers are treated poorly.

Major General Paul Alexander is Surgeon General of the Australian Defence Force. He is an experienced Army medical officer who has held a variety of medical officer positions across the ADF including with the Special Air Service. He has been deployed on operations and exercises in Australia and overseas. General Alexander is a general practitioner who has maintained his clinical skills as a partner in a large group medical practice. His clinical specialties include sports and tropical medicine and he has a Masters in Legal Medicine.


Posted 17 January 2011

5 thoughts on “Major General Paul Alexander: ADF responds

  1. deck_hand says:

    Doctors work best in a stable environment. Would Major General Paul Alexander please address the main concern of Dr Julian Fidge, ie, “My experience at these training institutions is that health support specialists are barely tolerated and often denigrated.”
    Is this the future we face with nurse practitioners adopting similar attitudes?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Would Major General Alexander like to comment on the use of (mlitary) nursing practitioners performing previous tasks of medical officers?

  3. Dr Julian Fidge says:

    The Major General’s response is misleading and minimises the national security emergency he has, in part, created. I refer the reader to the ADF’s recent pay claim, dated the 16 August 2010:
    “The ADF submitted that despite the introduction of the Medical Officers Specialist Career Structure (SOCS), the ADF Medical Officer workforce was experiencing acute shortfalls, with an associated negative impact on ADF capability. Significantly, remunerative bonus arrangements struck pursuant to s58B of the Defence Act have failed to substantially stabilise the workforce.”
    This is because pay is only a small part of the issue, as I have been raising within the ADF for years. The report continues to diverge from Dr Alexander’s response:
    “The ADF submitted that all three Services have reported shortages in the number of Medical Officers and difficulty in retention past Return of Service Obligation (ROSO). The consistent theme from all parties was that the three Services have significant shortages that create extreme difficulty in their ability to fill positions to meet operational commitments.”
    “Captain Elizabeth Rushbrook, RAN, the Director of Navy Health, gave evidence on the critical shortage of MO [Medical Officers] in all three Services which are having an adverse effect on operational capability.”
    Dr Alexander also gave evidence at this tribunal hearing, and must be aware of the extent of the problem. I joined the army in 1980, and I know how bunkered and blinkered their mentality can be. But these problems should not be minimised or dismissed. The safety and medical care of Australian Defence Force personnel is not something to with which to play politics.
    Dr Alexander should be more honest with his colleagues and the Australian public.
    Dr Julian Fidge

  4. Dr R G Bain says:

    If General Alexander is serious about raising the recruiting profile of Australian Defence Force Medical Officers why does he not avail himself of those who have worked well within the system as Scholarship holders and then went on to senior medical positions thanks to their military medical experiences and training.

  5. Henry R. Lemley, MD says:

    Anyone have an e-mail address or snail mail address for Dr. Alexander?

    I completed an EOI in early to mid-January to join the ADF an an MO. They are so overwhelmed with general inquiries, they can’t get to my application.

    I need to know if they have any slots for senior level doctors with prior military experience (US Army), who got out in 2010 as a major with two deployments and experience as brigade flight surgeon and infantry division surgeon

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