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Overseas doctors warned off Queensland public hospitals

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Doctors overseas are being warned to “steer clear” of Queensland after the State Government announced plans to force senior medical staff in public hospitals onto draconian individual contracts.

In a sign that the proposed industrial changes are beginning to hurt Queensland’s ability to recruit internationally to fill key vacancies, doctors in New Zealand are being urged reconsider any plans to work in Queensland public hospitals.

This is significant because New Zealand has been an important source of medical specialists to fill shortages in the Queensland health system, particularly in the past six years.

In a strongly-worded statement, the Executive Director of New Zealand’s Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, Ian Powell, warned senior doctors to “steer clear of considering employment opportunities in Queensland public hospitals”.

 “Members who are considering working in Queensland public hospitals are strongly advised to reconsider, especially if the position is more than a short term locum,” Mr Powell said. “Please be aware that if you take up a position in a Queensland public hospital you will have fewer rights, fewer protections and less negotiating strength.”

Mr Powell made his warning after the AMA condemned the proposed employment contracts as “unfair and unbalanced”, and predicted they would cause an exodus of senior specialist staff from the Queensland public hospital system.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said the new contracts, to be introduced from 1 July next year, would strip away key employment rights and protections, including fatigue provisions, rest breaks, limits on hours, and unfair dismissal and dispute resolution 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,” Dr Hambleton said.

 Mr Powell said the decision by the Queensland Government to introduce such punitive changes to employment conditions for public hospital doctors “defies sanity”.

 He said that Bundaberg Hospital scandal, in which the deaths of several patients were attributed to poor standards of care, had highlighted the risks of “bad appointments” to fill critical shortages of senior medical staff in public hospitals.

As a result, six years ago, the-then Queensland Government negotiated a collective agreement with salaried doctors to offer substantially improved remuneration and better conditions, which Mr Powell said allowed the State to “dramatically overcome” its recruitment and retention problems.

“Queensland now has a new Government,” he said. “Flushed with political power and ideology, it has forgotten history and patient safety.

“The new law would undo the good that was achieved by collective bargaining that overcame Queensland’s hospital doctor recruitment and retention crisis that was a major cause of the Bundaberg patient deaths tragedy.

“Removing the solution to a patient safety crisis and risking that crisis [returning] defies sanity.” Mr Powell said.

 “If there is a return to Queensland’s recruitment and retention crisis, then increased patient safety risks would be an unsurprising consequence,” he added.

Adrian Rollins