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Signs of progress on Qld contracts

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The AMA and other doctor representatives have responded cautiously to Queensland Government moves to defuse a contract dispute that threatens to drive an exodus of specialists from the State’s public hospital system.

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has personally intervened to provide assurances that unacceptable features of the contracts would be altered and clarified to address doctor concerns.

Mr Springborg told a meeting attended by AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton and representatives from AMA Queensland, the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation, and Senior Medical Officers on 17 March that he would issue a directive removing the ability of the Queensland Health Director-General to alter employment agreements to the detriment of doctors, and would introduce an addendum to the contracts to establish binding dispute resolution procedures, to ban transfers without consultation and to provide unfair dismissal processes.

The offer represents a backdown by the Minister, who up until now has adopted a hardline take-it-or-leave-it position on the terms of the contracts.

But Dr Hambleton said it was too soon to declare that the dispute, which has caused enormous stress and disruption for hundreds of public hospital medical staff, had been resolved.

He said the detail of the Minister’s proposals were yet to be disclosed, and doctors and their representatives would remain wary unless or until the changes were enshrined in legislation.

“We are closer to a resolution than we have ever been,” the AMA President said.

“[But] we are still cautious because of the lack of trust felt by doctors regarding the Queensland hospital system,” Dr Hambleton said. “They [the Government] are going to have to have a meaningful change in Hospital and Health Boards Act to remove the Director-General’s authority to change contracts. That would go a long way to rebuilding trust.”

The Minister’s proposal was to be discussed at a mass meeting of public hospital specialists to be held in Brisbane on 19 March.

Adrian Rollins