The Queensland government has accused a doctors’ union of being sneaky over a contracts dispute, with the premier hinting at overseas replacements.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is threatening to replace senior medical specialists with overseas doctors if they resign en masse over a contracts dispute.
Tensions between the government and doctors have intensified after more than 1200 specialists unanimously voted on Wednesday night to reject an eleventh-hour compromise.
While the doctors didn’t pass a resolution at that Brisbane meeting to resign en masse, Mr Newman said they could be replaced.
“If people do choose to resign, we will have in place arrangements to replace those people and if we have to replace people from interstate or overseas … we shall do that,” he told parliament on Thursday.
“We will give anybody who wants to work in our public health system, which will be the best in Australia, the opportunity to do that.”
Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation national president Tony Sara said a failure to broker a compromise could see elective surgery in Queensland cancelled by July, especially if anaesthetists quit.
“If 50, 70 per cent of the anaesthetists in your state go for a resignation strategy, then all elective surgery ceases on the first of July,” he told AAP.
“The waiting lists immediately blow out.”
About a dozen senior doctors are understood to have resigned on Wednesday night, as specialists from across Queensland voted against a government compromise allowing contract changes only if they didn’t leave salaried medical officers worse off.
It is understood that transplant surgeons and neurosurgeons are among those planning to exit Queensland’s public hospital system, with senior doctors in Townsville and Cairns preparing a mass exodus.
Dr Sara said emergency specialists would continue treating patients regardless.
“Emergency, life-saving surgery would still be done by the members even if they have resigned,” he said.
Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said the doctors’ union was being sneaky.
“I’m very disappointed we’ve got doctors’ union representatives going around talking about nuclear options to blow up the hospital system,” he told reporters.
“What we’ve got here is a bit of sneakiness, the goal posts keep on changing, it’s shifting sands.”
The Liberal National Party government, however, is divided, with Assistant Health Minister Chris Davis on Wednesday night speaking out against the individual contracts.
“In my opinion, contracts should not proceed without transparent evidence of proposed efficacy and the due diligence,” Dr Davis, a former director of geriatric medicine at Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital, said to loud applause at Wednesday night’s meeting.
The government wants doctors to sign contracts by April 30 but has ruled out revisiting industrial relations legislation, which has hospital boards appointing a mediator.
Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk asked Mr Newman why Mr Springborg was not being sacked over the “crisis”, but the premier said he had full confidence in his health minister.