DOCTORS GO BACK TO WORK ... but for how long?

By BREE PRICE

SURGEONS have agreed to resume elective surgery at Lismore Base Hospital on Monday, but they warn the health crisis is far from over.

Doubts remain over whether Richmond Valley anaesthetists, who have been on strike since July 1, will return to the hospital system.

Anaesthetist Dr Neil Stokes said yesterday he had not made a decision regarding the new offer of medical indemnity insurance provisions made by the North Coast Area Health Service on Thursday.

He said if he was not back at work on Monday, it meant there were 'still a lot of issues to be resolved'.

The surgeons have agreed to return to Lismore Base Hospital on the proviso the local anaesthetists' pay dispute is resolved as soon as possible.

The Lismore Base Hospital's Medical Staff Council has taken out a double-page advertisement in today's Northern Star, urging anaesthetists and the NCAHS to reach an agreement.

The open letter warned that surgeons would 'seriously consider resignation or not renewing appointments' if the crisis was not resolved.

It claims the black-ban on anaesthetists working as locums in local hospitals is punitive, immoral and will lead to the loss of more specialists.

The doctors also stated the problems of under-funding, bed shortages and the continual cancellation of elective surgery had been put to the NCAHS for the last five years, without resolution and dire consequences may follow.

The letter urges the community to write to NCAHS chief Chris Crawford, local mem- bers of parliament, and the State Government to demand the issues be addressed.

Yesterday Mr Crawford said he did not accept nothing had been done in the last five years, stating six extra beds had been placed at Casino and Ballina hospitals, in addition to 13 more beds at Lismore from March next year.

Mr Crawford said the black ban was used to prevent anaesthetists earning the much higher locum pay rate that would discourage them from returning as sessional Visiting Medical Officers (VMOs).

But Lismore Base Hospital Staff Council chairman Dr Rob Simon said the ongoing dispute was costing surgeons ? with two surgeons refusing to work with locum anaesthetists, another on extended leave and a urologist leaving.

He said surgeons wanted local anaesthetists with local knowledge back.

"There is sufficient time, if both parties are truly committed to finding a solution, to rebuild our local anaesthetic group," the advertisement said.

Dr Simon said even though elective surgery would resume on Monday, surgery schedules each day beyond Monday would be assessed on a day-to-day basis.

But he said for the patients' sake it was unlikely any scheduled surgery would be cancelled.

All elective surgery has been cancelled since July 1 when 11 Richmond Valley anaesthetists refused to renew or extend their contracts, leaving insufficient anaesthetists to maintain full services.

Last week North Coast Area Health Service chief Chris Crawford said he had employed extra locum anaesthetists from Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne to enable elective surgery to restart.

Mr Crawford said yesterday he too wanted to see local anaesthetists return to work at Lismore Base Hospital and he hoped they accepted the new offer he described a 'pretty significant concession'.



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