13 Mar 2017

DHBs signed to avoid strike 'threat'

9:14 pm on 13 March 2017

District health boards signed a deal with junior doctors over rosters rather than subject the public to more strikes, a spokesperson says.

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Junior doctors' complaints about long hours - and inadequate pay - were at the centre of the dispute. Photo: 123rf.com

The Resident Doctors Association said today doctors have ratified a proposed deal hammered out recently between both sides.

The deal, now finally approved by both sides, ensures junior doctors work no more than 10 consecutive days and no more than four consecutive nights.

The association's national secretary, Deborah Powell, said the deal, which covered 144 acute-care rosters, would make hospitals safer for doctors and patients.

"It'd be fair to say we've set a standard now, a new standard in terms of what is acceptable in terms of rostering of doctors, and if there are other rosters out there that need to meet those standards, in the due course of time they will also be getting some attention."

Delivering safer rosters involved giving doctors more days off during the week and, to get around DHBs' resistance to paying doctors for weekdays not worked, individual doctors would repay between $110 and $120 on average for each weekday they have off.

Dr Powell said it was not ideal but good enough for now, and would be looked into further during a remuneration review that would begin soon.

"We are going to have a look, a proper look, at the composition of our salaries going forward and to see if we can't get a better system for RMO [Resident Medical Officer] pay during the term of this document."

She said a one-year deal - meaning both sides would be back in pay talks within a year - was not what the doctors wanted, but she maintained the result would mean safer hospitals for doctors and patients.

"The resident doctors particularly want to thank the public for their support as well as the support from just about every other health worker we work with, so that was heartening. But, yeah, I think everyone gets something out of this settlement."

The DHBs' lead chief executive for workforce and employment relations, Julie Patterson, was less effusive, saying their refusal to face the possibility of further strike action, following a 48-hour strike in October and a 73-hour strike in January, was behind their signatures on the deal.

'We need another 12 months of peace'

"Is it what the DHBs wanted to achieve? No, it's not. But we couldn't go on being threatened by strikes. The DHBs agreed that we couldn't subject our communities and our other staff to any further strikes."

She said DHBs did not believe the agreement was going to solve fatigue problems for doctors.

"However the union thinks that this is going to help that, so of course we need another 12 months of peace to work through those health and safety claims and get those new rosters in place, and importantly get the remuneration review under way."

Mrs Patterson maintained many of the doctors did not understand some of the issues involved with revising the rosters.

"I don't know that many of the members actually fully understood what this was all about, right through until the end."

She would not put a figure on the cost of the deal, saying it would be high because DHBs could need to employ up to about 160 more doctors to cover new rosters.

"I think the overall number for the country was estimated to be around about 160, but that very much depends now on how each individual DHB manages the roster changes."

Dr Powell said doctors' average salary was $80,000 but they still worked hard and unsociable hours.

She said the union wanted the remuneration review completed by June.

The employment contract expires in February next year.

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