Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (27 May) . . Page.. 648 ..
MR CORBELL: Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Health and Community Care. The Minister, in acknowledging that almost no VMOs have signed new contracts, has made public statements in the past few days about how he intends to keep Canberra's public hospital system running in the event that negotiations over new contracts with VMOs are not successfully concluded when they expire at the end of this week. Can the Minister assure the Assembly that those strategies apply to both hospitals and all medical specialties?
MR MOORE: I do not think I said that almost no VMOs had signed contracts; in fact, to the contrary. As of this morning my advice is - and I have my brief in front of me - that at the Canberra Hospital interviews have been held with quite a range of VMOs, of whom approximately 30 of the 109 have indicated a willingness to sign and 12 have already signed. At Calvary there are 12 who have signed as well, that is, two VMOs and 10 consultants. Remember that the Calvary Hospital negotiations are likely to be done in a month.
Mr Corbell: That is less than 10 per cent.
MR MOORE: Yes, it is less than 10 per cent. Of course, if you were given a contract to sign and a certain time to do it, you would not necessarily grab it and say, "Yes, that is six minutes gone; I will tick it off". You would look very carefully at that contract and weigh up exactly how you were going to sign it. If you had some assistance - in fact, the assistance that is available is from the Australian Medical Association, which provided a legal opinion on how VMOs ought to deal with contracts - you would look at it very carefully before you made your decision.
Mr Stanhope: They have known for three years that it was coming up this week, Minister.
MR MOORE: I will take the interjection. The interjection is, "They have known for three years that it was coming up". The VMOs knew for three years that it was coming up. Not only did they know, but they were reminded again and again. In fact, in May 1997 all VMOs were advised that, possibly, they would not be offered a new contract at the termination of their contract in a year's time; in other words, what is now a couple of days' time. On 24 May 1997 the then Minister for Health and Community Care agreed to a position paper with the objective of continuing "the process of moving towards bringing VMO costs for the Canberra Hospital into line with the national average". On 26 November 1997 all VMOs were advised by the chief executive officer of the Canberra Hospital that the new contracts negotiated would be guided by the overall principle of the provision of quality health services in a cost-effective and efficient manner for the people of Canberra and its region.
Mr Corbell: I take a point of order. Mr Speaker, my question was not about the status of VMO contracts; it was about the processes the Government has in place to keep hospitals running if the contracts are not completed and signed by the conclusion of this week. I just ask the Minister to redirect his answer to deal with that question.