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Medical insurance crisis hits Australia's surgeons

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7363.510/b (Published 07 September 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:510
  1. Christopher Zinn
  1. Sydney

    Up to 60% of Australia's surgeons are threatening to retire early and almost a third of trainees are planning to quit because of rising medical indemnity costs, a survey has found.

    In the latest fallout from the continuing insurance crisis, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, which conducted the poll, warned that the mass exodus of surgeons would be catastrophic for the health system.

    In April United Medical Protection, the country's largest medical indemnity insurer, went into provisional liquidation with a shortfall of $A450m (£150m; $US232m; £;236m), leaving 32000 members without cover (4 May, p 1057).

    The survey of 1100 of the college's 3700 member surgeons in Australia and New Zealand found that 70% of surgeons expected their insurance premiums to rise by between 25% and 50% this year. And almost one in five surgeons said that if they retired there was no one to continue their particular service.

    College president Professor Kingsley Faulkner said: “When premiums are being pushed up over $A100000, that is when doctors are saying ‘enough is enough.‘ “He said the departures would devastate the health system. “Patients are already waiting months for elective surgery,” he said.

    “With fewer surgeons available to operate, waiting lists are going to get much worse. Emergency rosters will be difficult to maintain, and patients will be waiting years for surgery. It will be a gradual effect, but it will be significant over time.”

    In June the federal government guaranteed that doctors insured with United Medical Protection would have temporary malpractice cover until the end of 2002 and that it would work with doctors and the states to find a permanent solution.

    • Doctors in the US (pictured below) are also calling for reform of malpractice insurance as hospital obstetrics departments are being forced to close because of soaring insurance costs.


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    (Credit: PICTURE CREDIT:AP PHOTO/BRIAN BRANCH-PRICE)

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