RDQ of QLD unfortunately joins AMA in misleading medical practitioners and the public about genuine medical rosters and the TPA.
"The Rural Doctors Association of Queensland is mistaken and misleading in its comments in The Australian today with its reported claims that roster arrangements could breach the Trade Practices Act 1974, ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today.
"It is a shame that RDAQ President, Roger Faint, has chosen to further perpetuate misleading comments by the AMA regarding genuine rosters".
Dr Faint was quoted in today's article as saying that:
"Under the Trade Practices Act, rural doctors can be prosecuted for simply getting together to arrange a roster so that a colleague can take a well-earned weekend off,"
"But under the Trade Practices Act, we're not even allowed to get together to set up a roster. That's unfair. Each doctor can't be expected to work seven days a week, 365 days a year".
Those alarmist views about the application of the Act are wrong and the ACCC has never held them nor put them to doctors.
He is also quoted as saying that "the ACCC has said it will turn a blind eye to reasonable arrangements made by rural doctors". That likewise is wrong. It is not a question of the ACCC "turning a blind eye". Genuine rosters to ensure the supply of medical services after hours and on weekends are simply not a breach of the Act.
As the ACCC has stated repeatedly and publicly through press releases, public speeches, media comments and the draft GP guide to the Act which has been widely circulated, the purpose of a genuine roster is to ensure the availability of medical services from general practitioners after hours and on weekends. This is not a breach of the Act, or a breach of any "tough new rules prescribed by the nation's competition policy", as apparently asserted by Dr Faint through the article.
By calling for rural general practitioners to be given "exclusion from the Trade Practices Act", it would seem the RDAQ wants to put rural GPs above the law and in a position to collectively agree to boycott bulk-billing or to be in a position for all the different medical practices in a town to agree collectively on the fee to be charged by rural GPs in that town. Or for there to be a collective boycott that would prevent the introduction of no gap arrangements by private health insurers. Any conduct of this type has the potential to harm regional and rural patients who already have restricted access to other medical practitioners.
The Act has applied to the medical profession since 1995. Moreover, from 1974 until 1995, it applied in part to the medical profession, that is, to practitioners in ACT and the Northern Territory (for at least much of the period) and it also applied to incorporated medical practitioners. In this respect, the ACCC did raise from time to time some issues, for example about alleged price fixing. However, at no time since 1974, has the ACCC ever raised a concern about genuine rosters.
The ACCC is concerned that the AMA and other groups such as the RDAQ continue to perpetuate these alarmist and misleading comments. The ACCC has made a submission clarifying these issues to the current Government Inquiry into the impact of the TPA on the recruitment and retention of medical practitioners in rural and regional Australia which was called for last year by the AMA.
"The ACCC hopes this inquiry will clear up these types of misconceptions about the Act and the ACCC so that doctors can get on with their jobs without further scare-mongering by groups such as the AMA and RDAQ", Professor Fels said.
Professor Allan Fels, Chairman, (02) 6243 1131 or pager (02) 6285 6170
Ms Rachel Wolters, Public Relations, (02) 6243 1317 or mobile 0410 698 759
29 January 2002