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Flawed Qld contracts could spark rush for hospital exits

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There could be a mass exodus of doctors from the Queensland public hospital system unless draconian changes to employment conditions are quickly reversed, the AMA has warned.

The warning followed a decision by the Queensland Government to scrap its existing enterprise agreement with public hospital Senior Medical Officers and instead place them on individual employment contracts.

In a meeting convened soon after the Government’s announcement, the AMA Council of Salaried Doctors said the contracts being offered were unbalanced and unfair, and could force doctors into private practice or convince them to leave the State altogether.

The meeting, which included senior public hospital doctors from around the country, unanimously condemned the proposed changes – due to come into effect from 1 July next year – as a retrograde step that would harm public hospital doctors and their patients.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said the proposed contracts would strip away key provisions in existing employment agreements regarding the management of doctor fatigue, including mandated rest breaks and limits on hours, as well as robbing doctors of important workplace rights such as access to dispute resolution and unfair dismissal procedures.

Dr Hambleton warned that the change could lead to an exodus of senior doctors from Queensland public hospitals.

“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.

“These draconian contracts will remove key protections such as fatigue provisions and rest breaks, limits on hours, access to unfair dismissal, dispute resolution and grievance procedures.

“The changes are at odds with the rest of the country, and raise genuine serious concerns that many Senior Medical Officers in Queensland will move interstate or abandon the public hospital system to work in private practice.”

But Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has so far defied calls to reverse the decision, declaring the change in employment terms had been forced on the Government by a spiralling overtime bill for public hospital specialists.

Mr Springborg told ABC radio that “there was an extraordinary amount of overtime being done that we didn’t have the accountabilities around it that were necessary”.

“We did need to do something to control that, and that’s what we will be doing,” the Minister said.

A spokesman for Mr Springborg told The Australian the individual contracts would abide by the published policies of Queensland Health and Hospital and Health Services, including those regarding fatigue management.

The spokesman said the contract would ensure doctors got paid for the work they performed, and would include annualised payments for on-call and overtime.

But Dr Hambleton said the Government needed to reconsider the change.

He said successive enterprise agreements had helped to deliver a substantial boost in the number of Senior Medical Officers working in Queensland, and warned the proposed individual contracts would undo much of this progress.

“If the Newman Government proceeds with these ideologically-driven changes, Queenslanders will soon find it much harder to access care in their local public hospital, and they will experience longer waiting times,” the AMA President said.

Adrian Rollins