- On May 6, 2020
- May / June 2020
VMO Arrangements and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Australia’s ability to flatten the curve has presented different challenges for the health system. Here is the latest information for VMOs in public and private hospitals.
THE COVID-19 pandemic has presented the NSW health system, public and private, with a number of challenges which are constantly evolving, including the availability of personal protective equipment, the availability of resources such as ventilators, the cancellation of elective surgery to ensure capacity in our hospitals, the economic flow on effects for members and their staff, and the availability of access to care for patients.
While we are all pleased that efforts to flatten the curve have so far been successful, it has presented new challenges for the health system in the form of under-utilisation of resources and when and how elective surgery safely resumes.
The constantly evolving landscape and the challenges this has presented for our members has kept AMA (NSW) busy meeting and negotiating with the NSW Ministry of Health, meeting and working with Local Health District Chief Executives to advocate for our members and ensure a viable workforce, particularly in rural and regional areas. In addition, we have been providing timely individual advice and assistance to members about their VMO arrangements and practice arrangements in a fast-changing industrial relations landscape.
Our pandemic-related activities for VMOs over the past month have included the following:
Securing Pandemic Leave for VMOs:
- VMOs who are directed to self-isolate or become unwell due to COVID-19 exposure while working in NSW Health are entitled to paid Pandemic Leave for up to 20 days.
- VMOs are entitled to claim up to $1,240 per day ($155 an hour for up to 8 hours a day). The claim is to be entered in the Miscellaneous Line in VMoney.
Payments for Cancelled Lists and Sessions:
- For VMOs whose lists have been cancelled, they should claim under the Determinations for lists falling within the stipulated notice periods.
- For those lists and sessions where the notice periods do not apply, interim arrangements have been agreed whereby a Local Health District and VMO may agree to the allocation of alternative duties to the VMO and the VMO is to be remunerated at Sessional rates (regardless of whether they are appointed under a Sessional or Fee-for-Service Contract) for the time spent on alternative duties.
- We encourage VMOs to engage with their LHDs about the alternative duties they may be able to undertake during this period.
- While the return to surgery is being carefully managed and theatre time is limited for the time being, this will ensure some work can resume for many VMOs.
Payments for Telehealth:
- With the agreement of the LHD, a VMO may provide services to public patients from a remote location using telehealth.
- Remuneration for Sessional VMOs will be at Sessional rates.
- Remuneration for Fee-for-Service VMOs will be at rates under the Fee-for-Service Determination where there is an applicable item number, and if there is no applicable item number, remuneration will be at Sessional rates.
Professional Support Payments for Regional VMOs:
- We have asked the Ministry of Health to allow regional VMOs to access Professional Support Payments under the Determinations to assist them with their practice expenses during this time. We await the Ministry’s response to our request.
In relation to the treatment of public patients in private hospitals, given the current capacity in public and private hospitals (at the time of print) this may not ultimately need to be undertaken.
We continue our advocacy regarding these arrangements (in particular, remuneration and indemnity cover) and are in discussions with the ACCC about an Authorisation to negotiate with private hospitals on behalf of VMOs should we need to do so. I remind our members to be conscious of legal limitations under competition laws should they be discussing arrangements with private hospitals.
Please contact us about your issues and concerns
Our advocacy is informed by our members. Please contact me about the issues confronting you in the public and private hospital systems during the current pandemic and beyond – firstname.lastname@example.org or on 9439 8822.