AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, 4ZZZ Brisbane, Queensland Hospital Contracts

14 Feb 2014

Transcript: AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, 4ZZZ Brisbane, 13 February 2014,

Subject: Queensland Hospital Contracts


COMPERE: The Australian Medical Association is urging Queensland hospital doctors to reject the individual contracts which are about to become the status quo in public hospitals across the State. At the end of January, Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announced that the time for negotiations was over and specialist doctors working for Government are to be moved to individual contracts. Now the AMA are demanding that the Government re-open discussions. I spoke with AMA president, Dr Steve Hambleton, and started out by asking him what he heard from doctors when he attended a Medical Staff Association meeting at the Royal Brisbane Hospital last week.

STEVE HAMBLETON:  Well, literally they don't work there for the money. If they worked in the private sector there's no doubt they'd all be better off. But they go there because they've got a vocation, they want to look after individuals, they want to do the teaching and training, they want to get exposure to the interesting clinical work that they get and also, when you work in a hospital, you get to work with a team of really bright people. When you take away the job security, it's a really big blow. And what the Government is suggesting is that unless people signed by a particular date, they're going to lose a significant proportion of their income as well, and that is really putting people under pressure, and that's just not fair.

COMPERE:  So the AMA is urging doctors to reject contracts. If the doctor does reject a contract, is there any room for negotiation at all, or will they just have to go elsewhere?

STEVE HAMBLETON: Well, what we're hearing from doctors who work in the system is that they're just plain unfair. And when you talk to people and say, do you think having a clause in the contract that says we can change it any time we like without even asking you is fair? The answer is no. And really, we're saying these are senior doctors. These people give up their time to actually look after president in Queensland, and that's I guess part of the reason that I'm actually very happy to be involved in trying to get an outcome that's good for the doctors, good for the Government, good for the population in Queensland. In 2005, we were losing doctors and we couldn't recruit doctors from other states in Australia. You know, and as we said to the Government then, we can't afford to lose one more doctor.

It's the public hospital doctors, the senior medical officers, and the visiting medical officers, who actually teach and train the next generation of our doctors and actually make the health system self-sustaining. So they're the people in emergency, they're the people in intensive care; they're the people who are doing the surgery in the middle of the night that we're relying on. There's no doubt that we will start to see a trickle away from Queensland, and we will start to have difficulty recruiting.

Already the New Zealand version of the union has warned its doctors in New Zealand beware of going to Queensland, and I just think that's a terrible outcome for Queensland. And I'm a Queenslander; I want to make sure our hospitals are working. I don't want any international agency to warn people about coming to my home state. Also, you know, it's not out of the question for some doctors - and clearly some can't move - to start to migrate south or not come north who would. And we want to see that ability for doctors to move in and out of the State, but we don't want to be a net loss.

Now we now have four medical schools in Queensland. We have an enormous opportunity to help build the workforce that Australia needs right here in Queensland, and unless we have good relationships with our doctors, I don't see how we're going to do that. So if the Government is actually worried about money - and frankly, so am I, as federal AMA President - we need an efficient health system.

One of the key things you need to do to get efficiency in the health system - in any system, in fact its business 101 - is to be able to work with your workforce, and together work out how we get things more efficient. So if we had good relationships with our doctors we can start to talk about, well, how do we get the hospital working more efficiently, how do we get the people through emergency better, how do we make sure that our waiting - our elective surgery waiting times, how can we bring them down?

You know, part of that is system design changes, which we need to work with Government on, part of that is actually getting people into appropriate sit-down care, but all of this is best done with a good relationship with staff. And that's what we want to see. We want to see constructive outcomes for staff, and Government, and the people.

COMPERE:  So one final question, do you expect or think it's likely that the Queensland Government will be open to reopening negotiations?

STEVE HAMBLETON: Well, I think the Government's responsibility is to actually produce a high-quality performing health system. That's rule number one. The public and the people of Queensland expect them to deliver that. And they've got a view of how they want to run things. We can work with that. But it's got to be fair.

You can't just impose contracts that are just - you know, it doesn't meet the common sense ticked. You know, changing someone's roster without even asking them doesn't make common sense. Dismissing somebody without even giving them a reason doesn't make common sense. That's what's in these contracts. That's what we've got to fix.

And I think the Government's got a responsibility to actually have a functioning health system that's working well. What I'm saying is let's build a relationship with our doctors, let's not undermine them. Let's be competitive with other states. Let's not have a net loss of doctors. Let's have an ability to recruit, from internationally and other states. And if we get the balance right, we're going to get a good outcome. Now if the Government can't deliver that, that's something the population is going to be very unhappy with. Because they do want to be able to go to emergency when they need it, they do want a surgeon on call - to come in in the middle of the night if they need it, they want to be able to look up and see that doctor in intensive care happy, engaged, looking out for them properly, and these are all the things that we worry about broadly.

COMPERE:  Dr Steve Hambleton, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

STEVE HAMBLETON:      Thanks very much.


14 February 2014


CONTACT:        John Flannery                     02 6270 5477 / 0419 494 761

                            Kirsty Waterford                02 6270 5464 /0427209753