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Change aplenty looms in 2016

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Last year was a busy one, with many issues arising that affected salaried doctors, including Rights of Private Practice, workplace wellbeing (such as bullying and harassment), personal safety and the implications of the Border Force Act.

Salaried doctors are always in the front line of public health matters, and the expectations placed on them continue to build, increasing the pressure on terms and conditions.

It is hard to know which issues we will need to focus on as the year progresses, but there are several key issues that are likely to take up much of our time in the year ahead.

Workplace wellbeing

Issues of harassment are of continuing significance. Late last year a report revealed that junior doctors at Canberra Hospital continued to experience bullying, harassment and sexist treatment, leading to concerns about patient care. Lessons for many there. 

This comes as no surprise to those who have been following the results of junior doctor surveys around the country. In December, the AMA released its updated Position Statement on Workplace Bullying and Harassment, which outlines the AMA’s commitment to work with the whole of the medical profession to banish bullying and harassment from all medical workplaces.

Salary packaging limits

In its 2015-16 Budget, the Government announced a $5000 cap for salary sacrificed meal entertainment allowances would come into effect from April this year. Currently, in addition to FBT exemptions, employees of public benevolent institutions and health promotion charities can salary sacrifice meal entertainment benefits with no FBT payable by the employer and without it being reported. The ensuing consultation saw many submissions received, including from the AMA. We expressed concern at the potential effect on attraction and retention of staff, especially in struggling rural hospitals.

Despite many voices raised in protest, from 1 April 2016, a separate single grossed up cap of $5000 will apply for salary sacrificed meal and venue hire benefits for employees. Meal entertainment benefits exceeding the separate grossed up cap of $5000 can also be counted in calculating whether an employee exceeds their existing fringe benefits tax (FBT) exemption or rebate cap. All use of meal entertainment benefits will become reportable.

This is yet another erosion of benefits for public hospital doctors and effectively equates to a pay cut by stealth. However, you must comply. Please ensure your affairs are in order for the new regime from 1 April this year.

Rights of Private practice (RoPP)

Our industrial colleagues within the AMA/ASMOF family are continuing their work on a national strategy for RoPP, to bring some consistency to policy in this area. The benefits of RoPP far outweigh any perceived disadvantages, and we hope to make this clear in the policy that is in development. Also in development is a handy information booklet that can be used as a reference for those considering entering into RoPP arrangements.

Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) reviews

The MBS Review Taskforce released its consultation papers last September, setting out the background and context for the MBS reviews, as well as the process for undertaking them.

While it is arguably true that the MBS is outdated in many respects, any suggestion by those in the political arena that doctors have been using it to perform unnecessary procedures for financial gain is a pure insult to the profession. AMA policy is that this must not end up being a mere cost-cutting exercise. Clinical input, including from salaried doctors, is absolutely vital to keeping it transparent and relevant.

The consultation process closed on 9 November and the final results are yet to be published. So far, 23 items have been announced for removal. 

With a federal election coming up in 2016, we hope that the incoming Government, whatever its political colours, will value the work of public hospitals, their doctors and other staff. I wish you a successful year ahead and look forward to working with you on these and many other issues.