ACCC 'witch-hunt' strips Rockhampton of vital medical services

20 Apr 2002

AMA President, Dr Kerryn Phelps, said today the decision by the ACCC to commence proceedings against three Rockhampton obstetricians over their rostering practices is another example of bureaucracy gone mad that will see a regional community lose vital medical services.

Dr Phelps said the ACCC action fails the commonsense test.

"There is no public benefit in what they are doing to these doctors and to this community," Dr Phelps said.

"It is another example of the ACCC's methodology of 'persecution and prosecution and press conference' as they travel around the countryside applying outdated and inappropriate legislation - the Trade Practices Act - to people who are working hard to provide services to people in need," Dr Phelps said.

Dr Phelps met with one of the doctors in Brisbane today and heard first-hand how poorly the doctors had been treated and how devastating this process had been for the doctors, their families and the Rockhampton community.

"The Rockhampton exercise has been a witch-hunt by the ACCC," Dr Phelps said.

"These doctors worked a roster to provide around-the-clock obstetric services to the people of Rockhampton, Gladstone and district.

"As private practitioners, each had his own fee structure, and one of the three exercised his right not to participate in a health fund no gap scheme.

"He advised the other two doctors, both of whom participated in no gap schemes, that he would charge his own fees if he treated the others' patients on the roster.

"They set their own fees for their own patients independent of one another.

"The ACCC alleges that this amounts to collusion over fees and breaches the Act, and even went so far as to commence an investigation before there had been an official inquiry into the matter.

"The doctors are now being asked to pay huge financial compensation and to make a public announcement they were guilty of collusion…and to publicly congratulate the ACCC for being a wonderful regulatory body.

"Welcome to the Spanish Inquisition ACCC-style.

"As a result of the ACCC's actions, one of the doctors has retired from obstetrics and the other two have had to limit the extent of their services, including putting an end to regular visits to assist women in local Aboriginal settlements.

"The people of Rockhampton and district will now have inadequate obstetric services thanks to this senseless activity.

"What's worse is that the ACCC is repeating this persecution of doctors all around the country simply to amass case law at the expense of vital medical services in rural and regional communities.

"We can only hope that the Federal Government's Wilkinson Inquiry, which is currently looking into the ACCC/TPA and country doctors, will expose this madness and return some sense of security to regional communities about their medical services," Dr Phelps said.

CONTACT: John Flannery (02) 6270 5477 / (0419) 494 761

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