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Patients and public deserve better

Media Statement – Wednesday, 16 April 2008
Patients and public deserve better

Mediation has failed to avert the threatened 48-hour strike by junior doctors scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday and DHBs are now focusing on finalising contingency plans for the strike.

“DHBs have already begun deferring non-urgent and elective treatments as they begin scaling down services for the strike,” says DHB spokesperson David Meates.

“Our number one priority is patient safety and we will be concentrating all efforts on maintaining acute and emergency services for anyone who needs urgent medical attention, care or treatment.”

District Health Boards had hoped junior doctors would have brought some realism to the talks with the mediator. The RDA yesterday put to DHBs a revised claim that equates to a pay increase of 30% over three years.

“It’s hard to see where the compromise is in a wage demand that is more than double other health settlements,” says David Meates. “What’s most telling is how junior doctors’ pay claims haven’t really changed during negotiations.”

Mr Meates says their first claim was 20% for 2 years, it then increased to 40% for 3 years – now it’s 30% for 3 years. “The only thing you can say about their latest claim is that it’s less than 40%, but it’s still totally unrealistic.”

“There’s a horrible sense of déjà vu when negotiating with this group – an unrealistic and unaffordable claim backed up with the ultimatum of a strike. We offer a constructive solution, they demand more money and offer no answers to the underlying issues that create pressure on DHBs and staff.”

Mr Meates says DHBs today offered lump sum payments of $3-4,000 up front plus another $1,000 retention payment with an agreement to continue negotiating. "The aim is to avert the strike so we can work on fixing the underlying problems that affect RMOs."

An alternative option of putting 4.25% into base salaries for a short-term settlement was also provided via the mediator. Neither option was acceptable to the union.

“Junior doctors don’t work in isolation – they’re part of a team and we can’t resolve their issues without considering the impact on the senior doctors who teach and mentor them, and the health professionals they work with.

“Any pay settlement must be consistent with the many other unions with which we’ve already agreed wage and salary deals. What signal would it send the other 57,000 DHB employees if we settled at a higher level with a group that won’t work cooperatively with us?”

Mr Meates says DHBS recognise the need for good training and competitive salary packages. “We also need to address the frustrations expressed by many health professionals and managers about the way the current MECA forces us to organise our health services.”

“We’ve signalled that we’re prepared to look at ways to identify and amend operational processes so we can offer improved terms and conditions to our RMOs. This would include examining the locum spend across the country. What we can’t do is perpetuate the same old same old – it just doesn’t work!”

Over the past 5 years DHBs have increased the number of RMOs by 300 and significantly increased their remuneration – in 2007 the average 1st year house surgeon was paid $88,000 and average hours worked have also improved. “Today we still have the same problem facing us!”

“Patients and the public deserve better than the strikes and disruption every time we come to pay talks with this group and this union.

“The nurses’ settlement is an example of what can be achieved by working collaboratively instead of confrontationally. Senior doctors are looking at a progressive settlement based on partnership and quality. Why can’t we do it with this group and this union?

“The RDA needs the vision and the courage to work with us so that we can better meet the aspirations of junior doctors and the needs of the health sector. This is not about penny pinching, it is about a different type of engagement – we cannot afford to be back here in two years time having the same discussions.”


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