Doctors stage hunger strike in Australia

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 13 December 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1559
  1. Christopher Zinn
  1. Sydney

    The Australian government has given in to a hunger strike by overseas trained doctors and promised 100 extra university places to help them meet Australian standards if they agree to work in rural areas where there is a shortage of doctors.

    The climbdown came after 40 doctors staged a three week hunger strike outside state parliaments in New South Wales and Victoria against what they claimed were overly stringent registration tests. Eight had to be taken to hospital.

    But health minister Michael Wooldridge said there would be no compromise on the standards of care needed by the doctors to practise unsupervised in Australia. The extra 100 places represent a one-off increase which will begin next year.

    The Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association claimed that the Australian Medical Council examination they had to pass was a form of “medical apartheid.” They said that it discriminated against their 1146 members, who are mainly from non-English speaking backgrounds. Their hunger strike was suspended on 5 December only after the government offered peace talks. The association's president, Dr Asaad Razaghi, said that although they would accept the government's offer, the plan for 100 places for 1100 doctors—who are currently either unemployed or working in jobs such as cleaners and taxi drivers—was not enough.

    “Dr Michael Wooldridge has to go beyond this point because we are prepared to work in the bush, but what we need actually is a refresher or retraining programme because we believe we have been deskilled purposefully and deliberately by the medical apartheid in this country,” he said.

    The overseas doctors will sit the same exams as local students and be required to undertake the same postgraduate training before being given the vital Medicare provider numbers which enable them to practise as GPs.

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