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Competition czar endorses AMA’s role protecting country doctors and promoting rural health

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Rural doctors working as visiting medical officers at country hospitals will continue to have top-level industrial representation after the competition regulator gave interim approval for the AMA to negotiate collectively on their behalf.

In an endorsement of the AMA’s work in representing rural VMOs, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued a draft determination to renew the AMA’s authority to collectively represent rural GPs providing VMO services in negotiations with health departments across the country.

The AMA’s existing authority, granted in 2008, was due to expire later this month, but in its draft ruling the ACCC proposes to extend the arrangement, beginning on 1 March, for a further 10 years.

In applying for an extension of its authority, the AMA highlighted several benefits that had flowed to the broader community since the Association was granted negotiation authority in 2008.

These included more effective representation of rural doctors in their dealings with State and Territory health departments, reduced transaction times and costs for these departments when contracting GPs as VMOs, and improved retention of rural GPs working as VMOs in country public hospitals.

“These public benefits have been supported by experiences gained since the granting of the authorisation in 2008,” the AMA said in its application, lodged on 30 October. “There are no appreciable public detriments which have flowed from the authorisation.”

The Association said renewal of the authorisation was “vital” for rural GPs, because it would ensure continued legal protection for both them and those who act on their behalf in collective negotiations.

“In those jurisdictions where the authorisation has been relied on [in] the last few years, the AMA has been able to provide experienced industrial officers to negotiate on behalf of the GPs, saving time, money and frustration, and allowing doctors to focus on patient care,” it said in the application.

A final determination on the application is expected to be made later in the year.

Adrian Rollins