Hospital breathes easy with new pay deal

INDUSTRIAL action by anaesthetists working in the public health system at Coffs Harbour Hospital has been averted by successful negotiations.

Coffs Harbour's anaesthetists have been operating on temporary contracts for the past three months, since their previous three-year contracts expired at the end of June.

Those temporary contracts are due to expire on Tuesday and there had been anxiety among the medical profession in Coffs Harbour that doctors could be left without anaesthetists for elective surgery, if new contracts were not in place in time.

But local anaesthetists said yesterday they were pleased with the progress of contract negotiations with the North Coast Area Health Service.

Dr Joanna Sutherland, the director of anaesthetics for the Coffs Clarence network, said yesterday they had no problems with the way the Area Health Service had handled negotiations to date and did not anticipate having a problem with new contracts.

The new contracts are expected to be for a five-year term.

Anaesthetists are vital to surgery, since operations cannot proceed without them, but negotiations with anaesthetists over contracts have proved a rocky path for NSW health administrators on the North Coast in recent years, with action threatened at several hospitals.

Concern has been exacerbated by the unusual situation at Port Macquarie Base Hospital, which was constructed and originally run by private operators before being returned to the public system, with the result that doctors there have been receiving higher payments for some anaesthetic work than other public hospital anaesthetists receive.

Anaesthetists at Lismore Base Hospital are understood to receive some extra remuneration in recognition for being involved in more complex procedures, like neurosurgery.

The surgery performed in Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie is broadly similar.

Doctors have been concerned that unequal pay for anaesthetists would have a ripple effect on the whole healthcare community, hindering the retention of staff and discouraging new doctors from moving here.

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