Dr Trevor Mudge, AMA Vice President, with Howard Sattler, Radio 2SM

1 Jul 2002

SATTLER: If you thought that the public liability and medical indemnity insurance crises were over, you'd be wrong. Today thousands of Queenslanders will be without doctors. Medicos across the state are walking off the job because they don't reckon that their state government at least has handled the medical indemnity crisis and they have got little or no comfort as well from the Federal Government saying that they'll give six months grace to back them up.

At the end of the day, too, the Government is also asking - this is the Federal Government - for doctors to pay a levy averaging somewhere up to $5,000 a year over five years to pay for the outstanding unreported claims against the - well, what are they? Are they liquidated, or whatever they are, but certainly in deep trouble - UMP.

Now, you may say, "That's, gee, thank goodness in Queensland, that's the only place with a problem." No, the news is it may spread national.

On the line is Australian Medical Association's vice-president, Trevor Mudge. Good morning, Dr Mudge. How are you going?

MUDGE: Good thanks, Howard.

SATTLER: Okay now, why is Queensland any different from the rest of Australia at the moment, today?

MUDGE: Two things, I think. One is that most doctors in Queensland have just got their subscription notices for their premiums for the year, and most of the rest of the country gets them on the 1st January. So this lot have got them mid-year, so that's one thing.

Second is, I think, they are very angry at the Queensland Government's, in our view, failure to introduce significant tort law reform to start reducing that cost for the sick patients of Australia.

SATTLER: All right. Now, when we're told thousands of doctors are going to walk off the job, are we talking just obstetricians and specialists or are we talking GPs as well?

MUDGE: GPs as well, I think. It's not so much walking off the job. It's important to understand that doctors are going to still be there to treat emergencies, but you may not get a routine appointment this week. I mean, they're going back to - most general practices, as I understand it, are going back to Saturday morning service, end quotes, you know, the sort of being around for an emergency but not a routine appointment.

SATTLER: Well, there'd be queues down the streets, won't there?

MUDGE: I think so.

SATTLER: I mean, if you had the flu or something like that and it wasn't necessarily life threatening, you'd have to look after yourself. Is that what you're saying?

MUDGE: I understand that that's what they're doing. Not all practices. And of course, this is not a coordinated action by doctors, this is doctors taking their own decision that they're so cheesed off about it they're going to take a week off, as it were.

I understand that many of the general practitioners are actually staying in their surgeries but they're being receptionists - answering the phone calls and explaining to their patients why they can't offer an appointment.

SATTLER: Now, the doctors up there are saying that the Premier's caved into the legal profession. In what way?

MUDGE: Well, all the strength has gone out of the tort law reforms. In fact, tort law reforms that he eventually introduced, we believe, will make no difference at all to the costs for the patients of doctors. And we really do - here we've got premiums going up 20% a year for five years and this year doubling, so that we really have to do more than make a bit of difference around the edges. And unfortunately we think that he has caved in, in a sense, to the legal profession and not bitten the bullet hard enough.

SATTLER: All right. Neurosurgery won't be available north of Brisbane. That sounds pretty serious to me.

MUDGE: Look, I think neurosurgery is likely to be not available around Australia if this isn't fixed. The premiums for neurosurgery have gone from 100,000 to 200,000 this year.

SATTLER: Now, if you were having an operation this week, and you normally need an anaesthetist for that. I recently had one, I know you do. They say half of them will be unavailable, so what's going to happen…

MUDGE: It'll be down to emergency services only.

SATTLER: So all elective surgery will probably be off this week, will it?

MUDGE: Yeah, a fair percentage of it, I suspect.

SATTLER: Won't be able to get a dermatologist?

MUDGE: No. You'll have to itch till next week, I think.

SATTLER: Okay. So what are the prospects of this spreading outside of Queensland? You say the other states don't have to worry so much till next January, but I'm being told that it may go national before then.

MUDGE: Well, I think that doctors around the country are very worried about their capacity to continue to provide services to patients because it just is unsustainable that their patients have to pay this sort of hike. If we're going to care properly for the disabled in society, it should be done across all of us as a society and not just sick people, because basically that's what's happening by loading doctors' premiums. Like any other business, it gets passed on but only to those who are sick. Now, that's not equitable.

SATTLER: Okay, and the Prime Minister's just saying now before he goes away on another trip overseas, that there's nothing - little more the Government can do. Is there?

MUDGE: There's an awful lot more the Government can do. In fact, the Government's done really - the Federal Government's made some promises and they're working very hard on it, but they haven't produced any solutions and they're saying at the moment the doctors will have to wear all the costs.

Well, certainly we believe we have to wear some of the costs, but after all, we've been wearing all the costs up till now, or our patients…

SATTLER: Well, you're up to 110 grand a year now or something, aren't you?

MUDGE: Two hundred for neurosurgeons.

SATTLER: Two hundred thousand for neurosurgeons, is that right?

MUDGE: Yes.

SATTLER: And that 110 I talked about, I'm told if it goes…

MUDGE: For obstetricians like me.

SATTLER: Right, yeah. Outside of UMP you might have to be paying up to 160, that's what I'm told.

MUDGE: Well, there's one obstetrician who's got a quote from another firm for 160,000, yes. I've seen that letter. I mean, it's just - when Medicare gives a rebate for a normal delivery of $425.15, you can do the sums. Absolutely terrible.

SATTLER: You'd have to be delivering heaps of babies and there aren't that many being born.

All right, look, we'll keep in touch on this. Thank you for joining us today.

MUDGE: Yes, thanks, Howard. Bye bye.

SATTLER: Dr Trevor Mudge of the AMA. And if you ring Queensland - I know we have a number of listeners in Queensland - and you've had today's experience that your doctor's not available, please give us a call and let us know about that. And if you're a doctor up there, tell us whether you're on the job or not and if not, why not.

Ends

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