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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (28 May) . . Page.. 723 ..

Visiting Medical Officers Dispute

MR OSBORNE: My question is to the Minister for Health, Mr Moore. I approached him earlier about this question. Mr Moore, recently my office was approached by a man who has recently been diagnosed as having bowel cancer and has been told by his doctors that he needs an operation soon to see how far the cancer has spread. The normal wait for this procedure is apparently three months, but he has been advised that he should have it within the next couple of weeks. As you would understand, this man is extremely concerned about his condition, particularly as he has been told that the sooner he has the operation the better. It now appears, Minister, that he has been caught up in the dispute over VMO contracts and he has been told by his doctors today that he will probably not be admitted until the contracts are finalised. Minister, can you tell us whether this is an isolated incident, or are other urgent medical cases being put off because of this dispute?

MR MOORE: Thank you, Mr Osborne. One of the unfortunate parts of disputes such as this is that patients get caught in the middle. I am aware of a number of cases, although the number is still very small, where people are concerned about this sort of issue. The particular case was dealt with in my office, and I thank members who spoke to me about this. A number of members spoke to me about this particular person. We have advised him to go back to his own GP, to the referring doctor in this case. There are a number of doctors involved in this particular case. Where the referring doctors are their own GPs, people could also do the same and check for the clinical need. Is it really as urgent as they think? Of course, when somebody has cancer, they are going to be very concerned about how quickly an operation like this takes place. It would normally fit into our category one elective surgery.

The advice given to him is to go back to his referring doctor and see whether it is urgent. If it is urgent, the referring doctor may then refer him to a medical practitioner in Sydney or in another area. If there is any difficulty about that, Professor McClelland from the Clinical School will advise the referring doctor of where he can find somebody else who will do the job. So, if there is urgency, we have a method of dealing with it. It is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination.

I must say that it certainly seems to me to be reasonably heartless for a VMO in this case to say, "I am not going to book you in unless I have my contract". On the other hand, you can understand that if somebody does not have a contract they are not going to work in the hospital. So, in this period, for the next two or three days, there are going to be those sorts of difficulties. In this particular case there is another option, and that option has been explained; but I must say that the option is less than satisfactory. The ideal is that we have the doctors working in the hospital. I am trying to move the negotiations on as quickly as we can, in order to ensure that the hospital does not close down. Although we have contingency plans - they were reported in the paper this morning - we are still working very hard to make sure that it does not get to that stage.

This morning the Chief Minister and I had a discussion and some work has been done on whether or not we can take up the AMA's suggestion of separating indemnity insurance from the issue of contracts. Indeed, I have agreed that we will do that. Any doctor who has signed a contract can expect that we will use a separate negotiation on indemnity insurance. That is one of the major sticking points because some of the VMOs

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