Junior doctors to strike

Last updated 00:23 11/04/2008
JOHN BISSET/Timaru Herald
STRIKE NOTICE: Timaru Hospital's junior doctors are striking for better pay. Seen here from left are Drs Lucinda Thatcher, Erica Hzu, Megan Reilly, Richard More and Scott Newburn. Drs Thatcher and More are locums and will not strike but support their colleagues' bid for better conditions.

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A bid for better pay will see half of Timaru Hospital's junior doctors go on strike later this month. Emma Bailey reports.

Half of Timaru Hospital's junior doctors will go on strike for two days from Tuesday April 22, following failed contract negotiations, it was announced yesterday.

Up to eight junior doctors are likely to strike, which will see some elective surgery and outpatient clinics postponed.

The New Zealand Resident Doctors Association (RDA) issued the strike notice after unsuccessful negotiations for a 10 per cent pay rise annually for the next three years, while the District Health Boards have offered 4 per cent annually over the next two years.

South Canterbury District Health Board confirmed yesterday it had received notice for the strike from Tuesday, April 22, 7am to 7am Thursday, April 24 .

Timaru Hospital RDA delegate and junior doctor Scott Newburn said the strike was an attempt to redress the imbalance between what junior doctors were paid, compared to locums, and to make becoming part of the permanent workforce a more attractive option.

" A locum doctor employed to do the same as a permanent staff junior doctor earns a minimum of $75 per hour.

"We currently receive a starting salary of $70,000 with bonuses and work on average 60 hours per week and in some week 70 hours with no day off in 12 days. In hourly rate terms this equates to just $23 per hour.

"Understandably there has been a shift from regular employment to locum employment in New Zealand junior doctors because you end up with double the income."

Graduating doctors left university with a student loan of up to $100,000, he said. Becoming a locum or going overseas to much more lucrative pay packets were better options to pay off debt.

"Another advantage of being a locum is choosing when you work and in particular having no obligation to do undesirable shifts like nights, weekends and evening shifts."

New Zealand spent around $100 million a year on junior doctors, he said.

Timaru Hospital has 16 junior doctor positions, with 12 to 13 permanent employees and the balance made up by locums.

Hospital communications advisor Arlene Goss said yesterday contingency planning was under way for the strike.

"If this strike goes ahead, it will affect the level of services offered at Timaru Hospital.

"Some elective surgery and outpatient clinics will be postponed, as required, during the strike period.

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"This will ensure that the hospital is able to respond to emergencies and offer life-preserving services. Affected patients will also be contacted by the hospital.

"Our number one concern in preparing for this strike is patient care and safety. This includes maintaining urgent and acute care, and minimising risks to patients."

Emergency services will be provided throughout the strike period.

Spokesperson for the DHBs, David Meates, said the deal the RDA was seeking was unachievable .

"This union only has one way of negotiating -- holding a loaded gun to the heads of patients. This strike will force hospitals to cut back services to make sure they can provide urgent and emergency cover.

Mr Meates says the next round of talks had been scheduled for April 22.

"The demands are significantly beyond other health sector settlements which have been around 4 per cent. There is no way hospitals can afford this kind of increase and unless the union is prepared to be more realistic a strike is inevitable."

Mr Meates says DHBs have some genuine workforce issues to resolve including growing shortages of junior doctors, but they won't be solved in pay talks.


- The Timaru Herald

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