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New South Wales: Acting Health Minister welcomes comments from incoming federal Health Minister; encourages doctors to defer resignations and continue negotiations.



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AM

 

Friday 3 October 2003

New South Wales: Acting Health Minister welcomes comments from incoming federal Health Minister; encourages doctors to defer resignations and continue negotiations.

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: New South Wales is, as we've mentioned, the State where the medical indemnity crisis has hit hardest, with those 72 doctors announcing their intention to leave their jobs, but with Tony Abbott signalling that he's ready to do a deal, the New South Wales Government is asking those doctors to give the talks a chance. 

 

A short time ago, I spoke to the State's Acting Health Minister, Frank Sartor. 

 

FRANK SARTOR: We welcome the comments by the new minister, we think it's a refreshing approach that we haven't seen from the former minister for a long-time. He's acknowledged for the first time that the New South Wales Government's tort law reforms may have had a significant impact on the liability and, you know, this is a matter that the New South Wales Government and the doctors have been putting to the Federal Government for quite some time. So we're actually quite encouraged by the message that he's given us. I actually spoke with him yesterday, and I'll be seeing him today, and I'm optimistic. He seems to be interested in solving this issue.  

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: Do you think that a review of the basis for the levy, as Mr Abbott has signalled, and a possible revision downwards of the estimates of possible future liability claims should be enough to bring doctors back into the system?  

 

FRANK SARTOR: Look, I can't speak for the doctors. It's certainly a good start because that's something that we've been arguing and the doctors have been arguing. The incidence of these liabilities, we predict, will go down substantially. It's a matter for him to settle how much… how far he needs to go with the AMA. They will be talking this morning.  

 

You know, I simply can't assess what's required to get them back, except that there has to be significant change in position, and he's signalled a willingness to solve this problem. That's what he's said to me yesterday, I'll be seeing him later today and as I said, I'm optimistic.  

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: Okay. Well, what are the implications then for your Government? Given you're famously secure and safe budget position are you willing to try and put some money into solving this problem too?  

 

FRANK SARTOR: Well, let's be clear about this. We've introduced tort law reform in 2001 and 2002 and also we've picked up the tab for the visiting medical officers in public hospitals. We're already contributing significantly on this issue. I mean, this is not a levy we've imposed, it's something that's come about, we have goodwill now to solve this problem.  

 

We also, of course, have a number of other critical health issues that Tony Abbott is saying he's willing to talk about. We've got to reactivate the stalled health reform agenda. There are some critical issues that we have to deal with in relation to the basis of funding hospitals, in relation to the Emergency Department and GP collocation, in relation to transitional arrangement with aged care centres. These are big issues that we want to reactivate, put on the table, take the stalled agenda, start it again, put all the issues on the table, listen to the doctors and get on with the job of trying to reform the health system.  

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: As you say, the talks are yet to take place, there's a long way to go in terms of the detail, but you would you be encouraging doctors as a measure of goodwill and indeed, a measure of restoring confidence for the public, to come back to work?  

 

FRANK SARTOR: I would encourage doctors to stop… there's 72 of them out there that have indicated their intention to resign, I would ask them all to just, just take a break for a minute, and just, the minister has said he wants to get involved, let's not exacerbate any problems in our hospitals, let's just stay calm and see what comes out of this, and hopefully those letters of resignation or intentions to resign can be torn up.  

 

So, you know, it's critical, you know, I've got the list of hospitals across the State, it's quite substantial and it's causing enormous alarm for people that were due for various types of surgery and procedures, and I would encourage doctors to, you know, by all means keep negotiating hard and keep your position, but I think it's important that we give the minister a chance to deal with this issue.  

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: So put their resignation plans on hold virtually, stay at work?  

 

FRANK SARTOR: Well, he's meeting with the AMA this morning. I think Tony Abbott's intention is to deal with this thing quite quickly. So it's not a question of deferring it indefinitely, all I would say is that I would encourage doctors to take no further action at this stage.  

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: Frank Sartor is the Acting Health Minister in New South Wales, and he too is meeting with Tony Abbott a little later this morning.