Rural and other general practitioners should not be alarmed or misled by Australian Medical Association public comments implying medical roster arrangements could put doctors at risk of breaching the Trade Practices Act or prosecution by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, warned today.
"If the roster arrangement is to genuinely ensure the supply and availability of medical services after hours and/or weekends, it would not breach the primary boycott provisions of the Act", Professor Fels said.
"The ACCC is not and will not be pursuing doctors for entering into such arrangements". Addressing the annual conference* of Victorian Division of General Practitioners, Professor Allan Fels, re-affirmed that the AMA views on roster arrangements were wrong and that the AMA had been so told repeatedly.
"The ACCC has not targeted such roster matters in the past and will not in the future", he said.
"The current law, through the authorisation process, provides a sensible method of dealing with any collective arrangements, unlike general rosters, that may be at risk under the law. For example, there are genuine public benefits in ensuring the supply of medical services to rural and regional areas. The critical issue is to demonstrate the link between those public benefits and the conduct for which authorisation is sought. If the public benefit outweighs the anti-competitive effect, authorisation (in effect immunity from the Act) can be granted.
Professor Fels launched a revised draft of a guide to the Trade Practices Act written specifically for general practitioners.
"This was developed after discussions with representatives of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care; the Australian Division of General Practitioners; the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners; the Rural Doctors Association of Australia; the AMA (Federal Branch) and some individual rural general practitioners. The ACCC will consult widely with general practitioners in finalising the revised draft, including participation in workshops in rural and metropolitan areas. The final document will ensure that general practitioners are better informed and consulted further about the application of the competition laws to their practices and of the ACCC's priorities in this area.
"The further revised draft follows requests from various representative organisations for more time to provide submissions and consult with their membership and reflects initial feedback.
*The conference is being held at the Sofitel Hotel, 25 Collins Street, Melbourne. Professor Fels speaks at 4 p.m.