Temporary doctors flown in to Glen Innes Hospital are paid $5000 for the weekend’s work.
They are often brought in from Sydney and provided with accommodation in Glen Innes.
On one calculation circulating in the health authority, that amounts to a bill to the public purse of around $300,000 a year, more than enough to employ a full-time doctor based in Glen Innes.
The Hunter New England Local Health District says the rates are standard policy which is that where “an on-call presence is required either on or adjacent to the hospital premises over 24 or 62 hours (providing cover for a weekend)”, the rates for Glen Innes are $2000 for 24 hours and $5000 for the 62-hour weekend.
This has angered some Glen Innes health staff who feel that money is being wasted when it could be better spent on employing local staff who don’t fly in and out.
One health worker told the Examiner that an incoming stand-in doctor had said in front of nurses that he had to do the shifts to pay for private school for his kids.
The revelation comes during a debate in Glen Innes about whether there should be a local doctor permanently assigned to the hospital.
At the moment, local GPs are on call to go there in an emergency but shortages at weekends mean extra staff – known as locums – are brought in from outside the area.
The Greens in Glen Innes have organised a petition which they say has been signed by 1300 people. It calls for “a 24-hour doctor on duty at the hospital”.
Defenders of the current system say that it would be wasteful to have doctors permanently stationed at the hospital where they would often have little to do. Much better, they say, to have GPs doing other work in their own surgeries but able to respond to emergency calls.
But weekends are the problem because local GPs do not volunteer to cover in sufficient numbers.