GPs in dispute over on-call contracts

A spat over on-call hours could see more than 30 SA GPs walk away from an agreement with their local hospital.

Doctors in Victor Harbor say the new contract that South Coast District Hospital is asking them to sign could see them working on-call for 36 hours straight.

At the moment, GPs from four clinics in the town provide 24-hour on-call obstetric and anaesthetic cover, as well as day-time emergency medicine services at the hospital.

For the past five years, a locum has worked the overnight shift in the emergency department, where presentations have doubled in a decade.

However, Country Health SA has said that arrangement would end from February next year and it wants GPs to take on the overnight shift.

It has offered the clinics $450,000 between them to fund the on-call and after-hours rosters, but GPs will lose their hospital visiting rights unless they sign the new agreement by 30 November. Doctors have so far refused to sign the agreement.

AMA SA president Dr Peter Sharley said the agreement would force GPs to work unsustainable and unsafe hours.

“You can be busy in your clinic all day or busy at the hospital all day, and then it might be your turn at night-time and you could work all night — and then you could be expected to work all the next day at your clinic because there’s a six-week wait for appointments.”

The AMA had asked to negotiate with Country Health SA on the GPs’ behalf, he said.

“No one can sign these contracts — it’s just not appropriate,” Dr Sharley said.

Adjunct Professor Belinda Moyes, Country Health SA chief executive, said the new agreement would bring after-hours services in Victor Harbor in line with the rest of the state.

“If the Victor Harbor GPs decide not to sign the new agreement, other options for providing this service will be explored,” she said.

A spokesman for Country Health SA said he could not elaborate on what those other options might be.

Dr Sharley said that was concerning.

“They’ve drawn a line in the sand but haven’t described what else they’ve got in mind. It does raise concerns about the continuation of the full suite of services in Victor Harbor.”

Country Health SA said negotiations were continuing “in good faith” and it hoped to reach an agreement with the doctors soon.