Specialists again walk out over pay
By ZOE SATHERLEY
ANAESTHETISTS have once more walked out of Lismore Base Hospital over a long standing dispute about pay and conditions.
But surgery would not be affected, chief executive of North Coast Area Health Service Chris Crawford pledged yesterday.
Mr Crawford said locum anaesthetists would be used to fill any gaps in service provision ? despite each locum costing $3600 per shift.
Mr Crawford said this expense was more preferable to meeting the demands of anaesthetists because of the potential of any special pay deal to spread to doctors at Tweed, Coffs Harbour and other NSW public hospitals, 'which could end up costing us millions'.
However he was not prepared to disclose what special deal, if any, anaesthetists were seeking.
Of Lismore Base Hospital's 13 Visiting Medical Officer anaesthetists, seven walked off the job last Friday, three are not involved in the dispute and three more are expected to give the health service until the end of November to negotiate a satisfactory deal, Mr Crawford said.
The main sticking point in the dispute is the payment for on-call services, said Dr Michael Levitt, who is negotiating on behalf of the anaesthetists.
"Mr Crawford wants them to work for less than they are currently being paid and that is not acceptable," Dr Levitt said.
"The doctors are fed up with their on-call workload (working from 6pm until midnight or from midnight until 6am), which is an intolerable one shift in every six days.
"The way in which the new deal will be structured will mean they will not be paid at time-anda-quarter but just at a standard rate.
"And media reports of anaesthetists wanting $300 an hour are false. They are not seeking a pay rise over their current rate of $179 an hour."
Dr Levitt said anaesthetists were fed up with the 'delaying tactics' of the North Coast Area Health Service and their 'inability to respond to our proposals in a timely way'.
"We have given them three-anda-half months of extra time since the contracts expired in June. That is enough."
But Mr Crawford said Mr Levitt kept introducing new concerns, which had to be explored and dealt with and this was taking extra time.