'Private Practice' scheme scrapped

A QUEENSLAND Health committee, which oversaw the spending of more than $800 million in government funding for little return, will be dismantled by the government.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg told reporters he expected the department to claw back no more than $50 million of the money spent - and he expected no charges to be laid.

An investigation by the Auditor-General into the private billing practice was announced late last year, with the findings tabled to the government this week.

The "Private Practice" scheme allowed doctors in the public sector to earn extra income by supplying care in private practice arrangements.

In exchange, the doctor's charges would be paid to the hospital, not the physician.

It began in the 1990s with limited success with the scheme being used as a carrot to entice specialists and medicos into roles, including those in regional Queensland.

A state review in 2006 relaxed the conditions of the scheme, allowing other medical staff to access the extra income despite having no ability to bill patients.

Mr Springborg said this marked the start of the "cost implosion".

Starting next month, doctors will be required to treat private patients before they earn the extra money.

Mr Springborg did not blame those doctors being paid the extra income, instead pointing the finger at the former Queensland Government for not keeping a close enough eye on the program.

The committee supervising the program will now be disbanded with a new governing body put in place, including at least two senior Queensland Health executives.

"We expect to finalise a new system for access to private practice in public hospitals within months," Mr Springborg said.

"It will mean our hospital and health boards will be able to generate revenue with a system that encourages doctors to bill privately."

A taskforce will also be put in place to help generate income for Queensland Health and consider strategies for recouping some of its losses.

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