INDUSTRIAL action could delay the opening of Ballarat’s new Regional Integrated Cancer Centre as specialist medical physicists demand higher pay from the Victorian government.
The $56.5 million centre is due to be opened by January 2013, but the planned commissioning of two new linear accelerators in less than two week’s time could be delayed, Ballarat Health Services said this week.
A shortage of medical physicists needed to commission and operate state-of-the-art technology and enterprise bargaining negotiations are at the heart of the dispute, with the Medical Scientists Association of Victoria calling on Premier Ted Baillieu and Health Minister David Davis to intervene.
MSAV secretary Dr Rosemary Kelly said pay disparity between Victoria and New South Wales placed the state at a disadvantage in the recruitment and retention of physicists meaning hospitals including Ballarat were forced to employ “fly-in, fly-out” specialists from interstate.
She said Victorian physicists were paid as much as $60,000 less their interstate counterparts but the government was unwilling to offer more than a 2.5 per cent pay increase.
“Medical physicists are tired of working extended hours to try to patch up the system and they are sick of the government’s inaction,” Dr Kelly said.
“They have voted to commence a campaign of industrial action to bring home the consequences of the shortage of medical physicists to the public especially the impact on patients.”
She said Ballarat risked having the first new linear accelerators anywhere in the world, but without trained experts to operate them.
Ballarat Health Services chief executive officer Andrew Rowe said two enterprise bargaining meetings between the parties took place last week with another planned for this week.
“The Department of Health is working with the MSAV to negotiate an EBA outcome in the best interests of staff, hospitals and the broader health system,” Mr Rowe said.
“BHS remains committed to building the BRICC and providing the best possible cancer treatment.”
Health Minister David Davis did not answer questions on the issue yesterday, instead referring them to the department.
A department spokesperson said EBA negotiations with the Medical Scientists Association were continuing.
“We remain committed to better wages and conditions for our medical workforce while at the same time improving Victoria’s hospital system,” the spokesperson said,
“It is our intention to negotiate an outcome in the best interests of staff, hospitals and the broader health system.”
Since coming to office in late-2010, the Baillieu government has attracted criticism for prolonging pay negotiations with the state’s police, nurses, public servants and teachers.
The new facility will include 16 chemotherapy chairs, a pharmacy, CT scanning facilities and a new wellness centre.