Rural docs go three years on expired agreement

3 minute read

The ‘dog’s breakfast’ scenario is hurting recruitment and retention in Tasmania.

Doctors who work across primary care and rural emergency departments in Tasmania face an uncertain future, as routine industrial negotiations drag out over three years.

Rural Doctors Association of Tasmania president Dr Ben Dodds is calling on the state government to stop kicking the can down the road in relation to renegotiating the Rural Medical Practitioners (Tasmanian State Service) agreement, which expired mid-2021.

The current agreement was negotiated between the state government and the Tasmanian Salaried Medical Practitioners Society – a subcommittee of the state’s AMA branch – and covers the rates, hours and duties for rural primary care doctors doing public hospital work.

In early 2022 it was retrospectively extended for another year – set to end June 2022 – with a commitment from the government to commence negotiations on a replacement agreement on or before May 2 of that year.

This first, year-long extension is still listed as the “current” rural medical practitioner agreement, despite also having expired 18 months ago.

Dr Dodds told The Medical Republic that each year, negotiations have been put off another 12 months.

“We’re really keen to continue engaging with Department of Health on it, but we’ve just hit roadblock after roadblock in actually getting it getting through to the right people to get it reworked in the way that we’d like to see,” Dr Dodds said.

“And we’ve got quite significant feedback from our members that this is something that they want sorted out.”

Part of the problem, he said, was that the Tasmanian health department appeared to want to move toward a contract-based system where individual practices make staffing arrangements with individual hospitals.

A health department confirmed with TMR that it was looking to replace the current agreement with either “an alternative employment arrangement, or contract for services with private GP practices”. 

It’s not a solution that GPs like Dr Dodds are particularly keen on.  

“We think that it places a lot of risk onto the practice to supply the medical workforce, when actually this is a public hospital and the public health system should be responsible for the staffing of a public hospital,” Dr Dodds said.

Instead, the RDAT would like to see the rural medical practitioner agreement dissolved and merged with the existing salaried medical officer agreement.

“We’ve got three [medical practitioner service agreements] in Tasmania,” Dr Dodds said.

“We don’t need three.”

Wrapping the whole business up is a “key priority” for the RDAT this year, he said.

“It’s a detriment to our recruitment and retention strategies, because it’s a dog’s breakfast,” he said.

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