Hospital pay dispute drags on

SECRETARY of the Rural Doctors Association Dr Paul Mara has acknowledged doctors working at Queanbeyan Hospital in future may not be eligible for higher RDA contracted rates.

But he says those doctors who have previously been employed under RDA contracts should continue to be so as the ongoing pay dispute between hospital administrators and senior specialists drags on.

The comments come as one senior hospital specialist, general surgeon Vincent Ferraro, has told The Queanbeyan Age he will no longer be providing services in Queanbeyan following a breakdown in contract negotiations.

The eligibility of doctors at Queanbeyan Hospital for the higher contract rates has been at the centre of the stoush which has already affected services at the hospital.

Figures from Southern NSW Local Health indicate 31 patients have so far been affected by the dispute. Of those, 20 have had their surgeries rescheduled and have since been operated on while seven remain on waiting lists.

The remaining four have chosen to no longer have their surgery carried out in Queanbeyan after being informed they would no longer be able to have their planned procedure carried out by their long-term doctor.

Manager of Queanbeyan Hospital, Kim Bradshaw, told The Age on Thursday that she was satisfied daily operations at the hospital had continued "business as usual" during the period in question.

Specialists at RDA designated hospitals receive contracted rates 40 per cent higher than those at non-RDA hospitals due to the greater strain placed on the doctors' time and workload.

Typically, RDA doctors do not receive the same support from junior doctors, registrars, and residents as specialists at larger teaching hospitals such as Canberra Hospital.

Queanbeyan is currently designated as an RDA Hospital.

But Southern NSW Local Health, which administers the hospital, believes that designation is outdated and is no longer applicable.

Dr Mara told the Queanbeyan Age that there was some justification in the administration's arguments that Queanbeyan has outgrown its 'rural hospital' status.

But he said special consideration should be made for doctors of long-standing who have provided services at the hospital for many years under the existing pay structure.

"Queanbeyan Hospital is currently going through a transition phase from being a small community hospital to a larger base hospital," Dr Mara said.

"As an organisation the RDA is looking at restructuring hospitals across the state where they may no longer fit the implementation of the RDA package and Queanbeyan has been part of that process.

"But we maintain very strongly that those doctors who came to Queanbeyan when it wasn't attractive to do so, and who have been providing services there for many years, should continue to receive [RDA rates] at all times."

While Dr Ferraro has already indicated he will no longer be providing services at Queanbeyan Hospital after the removal of RDA rates, two other specialists remain locked in negotiations with Southern Local Health NSW.

The doctors affected have warned that the removal of RDA rates will see experienced surgeons choose not to operate at Queanbeyan, curtailing services.

Dr Mara however, acknowledged future services would need to be provided in a "cost effective way" and that there was a legitimate question mark over Queanbeyan's RDA designation moving forward.

But he pointed to precedents at other hospitals around the state where similar situations had resulted in a compromise agreement being reached.

Negotiations between the affected doctors and Southern NSW Local Health are continuing.

In a statement, Southern NSW Local Health said none of the doctors involved in negotiations had given any official indication that they will not be taking up new contracts.

Representatives from the RDA, Southern NSW Local Health and the NSW Ministry of Health are set to meet to discuss the matter today.

Related story: Doctor slams hospital over pay negotiations

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