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Queensland contracts dispute: end in sight

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The Queensland public hospital contracts dispute is nearing resolution after the AMA and other doctor representatives announced they had reached in-principle agreement with the State Government on its revised offer.

A mass meeting of senior hospital medical staff on 16 April is shaping as crucial to ending the industrial battle, which at one stage threatened to cripple Queensland’s public hospital system.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said he expected to be in a position to advise the meeting that the Government’s revised offer was acceptable following intensive talks between the Queensland Government, the AMA, AMA Queensland, and other doctor representatives including the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation, the Together union and the Senior Medical Officer taskforce.

“Based on last week’s negotiations, the AMA and AMAQ are now of the ‘in principle’ view that a satisfactory resolution of our concerns with proposed contracts has now been reached,” Dr Hambleton said. “With all parties working hard to finalise the relevant documents, we should be in a position to advise [the] meeting that the AMA and AMAQ are satisfied with the proposed contracts, associated directives and negotiation framework, including the Contract Advisory Committee and agreed arbitration arrangements.”

As reported in Australian Medicine, Health Minster Lawrence Springborg presented a heavily revised offer which addressed key doctor concerns.

Among the changes and concessions, the Minister agreed to incorporate the draft addendum (which, among things, removed the right of the Queensland Health Director-General to unilaterally alter contract terms) into the contracts, as well as removing references to “profitability” from the contracts, creating an advisory committee that included doctor representatives to guide future contract developments, and putting the development of key performance indictors would be put in the hands of the State’s Clinical Senate.

Mr Springborg has also pushed back the deadline for doctors to sign the new contracts by a month to 31 May, helping take some of the heat out of the situation.

“These contracts protect the conditions of Senior and Visiting Medical Officers and facilitate new arrangemetns for the treatment of private patients in public hospitals, on terms fair to both private and public patients,” the Minister said. “The contracts recognise and respect the clinical skills, hard work and dedication of senior doctors.”

Dr Hambleton acknowledged what he said was the constructive approach taken by the Minister and Queensland Health Director General Ian Maynard, but emphasised that any endorsement of the Government’s revised offer was subject to the satisfactory finalisation of detail in the relevant documents, to ensure they faithfully reflected matters agreed to last week.

He said he did not believe mass resignations, which had not been part of the AMA or AMAQ industrial strategy, would be necessary, provided the final documents match what was agreed at last week’s negotiations.

ASMOF President Dr Tony Sara said the Government’s amendments meant patient safety would not be compromised to meet “bureaucratic needs”, and backed the AMA’s announcement of in-principle agreement.

“There are still a small number of key matters that remain to be resolved,” Dr Sara said. “Our expectation is that these matters will be rectified prior to the mass meeting of doctors on Wednesday.”

Adrian Rollins