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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13126


Mr LINDSAY (11:14 AM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, I was just asking if there were any applications to join the Australian Labor Party on that side of the parliament. It was not for me, I might add!


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—I do not think that is the bill before the House; the bill is the Health Insurance Amendment (New Zealand Overseas Trained Doctors) Bill 2009. I draw the member’s attention to the bill before the House.


Mr LINDSAY —Mr Deputy Speaker, perhaps I do need some health advice at this stage. Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for calling me. I want to speak on this particular bill because it talks particularly about policy in relation to overseas trained doctors. I want to draw the parliament’s attention to the inadequacies of the current policy on overseas trained doctors. You will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Townsville Hospital, which is a level-6 hospital, in the fair city in the north. And you will know the Mater hospital, which provides a private service for the citizens of the north. Both hospitals are extraordinarily good in the services that they provide. But they cannot provide them without doctors. They cannot provide those services, those high-quality, high-level specialist services, without having the doctors to deliver those services. And while this bill addresses that issue, it does not address the current situation that we face in Townsville. It is a disgrace.

Currently there is a shortage of anaesthetists, and Dr Charmaine Barrett, who is a specialist anaesthetist, alerted me a day or so ago to the current problem at the Mater hospital and at the Townsville Hospital in relation to overseas trained doctors and an inability to recruit them. Dr Barrett tells me that her practice has been advertising on her college’s website for an anaesthetist for the past three years. There have been no Australian replies; in three years there has not been one Australian apply for a specialist anaesthetist job at the Mater hospital. And on top of the Mater hospital advertising, the Townsville Hospital is currently advertising for a specialist.

This situation has become critical with the loss of the current anaesthetist, Dr Christoph Frahm, on 9 October. He went to the Royal Brisbane hospital; he went to fill in a temporary position. With the loss of him from our local community, in fact the North Queensland community because both hospitals provide services across the north, an area larger than the size of Victoria, if we do not get an overseas trained doctor appointed immediately because there are no Australian doctors then surgical lists will be cancelled. How do we run a health system in this country when overseas trained doctors are available but they are not allowed to be employed and so we cancel surgery lists? How can we run a health system like that? I saw this morning in the Townsville Bulletin that the Townsville Hospital’s emergency department was named as the emergency department that has the most number of walkouts in the state. That means people present at the emergency department and give up waiting so they just leave. It is very significant that that should be happening in Townsville.

But back to what this bill is about and what I am on about. Dr Barrett says:

We have a UK anaesthetist who is immediately available to work, as a deemed specialist, at the Mater.

Having filled in innumerable forms—

and we can all understand that—

over months to the AMC, ANZCA, Medical Board, Area of Need Section of Medical Board, I now discover that the [Department of Health and Ageing] have decided that we are not an area of workforce shortage for anaesthetists.

Therefore we cannot employ this UK doctor who is available immediately for appointment and to start work.

Dr Barrett has also discussed this with Dr Isaac Seidl. Dr Seidl is the Deputy Executive Director of Medical Services at the Townsville Hospital. He agrees with this situation. Both the Townsville Hospital and the Mater hospital will continue to cancel lists until this particular situation is resolved. The British anaesthetist is without a job and he has a family to feed. He is ready to come to Townsville and he is ready to provide these much needed specialist services, but the department says we are not an area of workforce need, despite the previous anaesthetist being employed on the basis that we were an area of workforce need. So what has changed? Why is this happening? Why is the department not allowing the appointment of an overseas trained doctor when, clearly, three years of advertising did not produce an Australian for the job? Why is it that we have to cancel surgical lists when a specialist is available to supervise those operations? Why is that? All of us in this parliament must surely be very concerned that this is happening. It is probably happening across the whole of Australia if it is happening in Townsville.

This is not satisfactory. This is not the way we should be running our health system. I appeal to the Minister for Health and Ageing to intervene on this. I appeal to the department: for heaven’s sake, have a modicum of common sense and see that you cannot leave our community in a situation where we are cancelling people’s surgery. You cannot leave us like that when we have doctors available to take over and manage that surgery, particularly when it is a doctor replacing a similar overseas trained doctor who was deemed to be working in an area of workforce need. I support the medical fraternity in Townsville in relation to this issue. I support my community and demand that the department immediately clear the way and give the green light to the Mater hospital to employ the UK specialist. Let us get our lists back on track and have our people looked after.