Final weeks for Ahrens?

Bega Valley orthopaedic surgeon Christoph Ahrens.
Bega Valley orthopaedic surgeon Christoph Ahrens.

SURGEON Christoph Ahrens's future in the Bega Valley hangs in the balance with a Medical Board decision on his registration to take place in in a fortnight.

Dr Ahrens’s membership of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) has been the subject of a long-running dispute – and was raised as part of a parliamentary inquiry into foreign-trained doctors.

The Medical Board of Australia previously extended his registration as an “area of need doctor” until December, but his future as one of only three current orthopaedic surgeons in Bega beyond that is still up in the air. 

“December 6 could be the end of the game,” Dr Ahrens told the BDN.

“These are insecure times - it’s extremely disturbing.

“But on the other hand I’ve been there so many times.

“I know I can count on the community, but I don’t intend to exhaust the public on the topic.

“I’m taking a bit of a gamble now, but I’m going to sit back and wait for the decision.

“If things go wrong…”

Dr Ahrens said a parliamentary inquiry held in March, titled “Lost in the Labyrinth”, tabled 45 recommendations, including that international medical graduates like him be assessed in the workplace (BDN, 27/3).

A subsequent Senate inquiry looked into the shortfall of available medical professionals in rural areas, which Dr Ahrens said also recognised “the important contribution of foreign doctors”.

“There have been two inquiries and there is a clear message on what to do,” he said.

“The minister has failed to follow through.

“Honestly, I feel a bit let down by the Federal Government.

“It’s pointless conducting two inquiries and then not acting on any of the recommendations.”

Dr Ahrens said he personally handed correspondence to Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek when she visited Bega in May and has since sent “multiple emails” to her office about the issue.

“There has been no outcome, no reply even,” he said.

“I’ve heard absolutely nothing.

“It’s a frustrating place to be.”

However, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Ageing responded to a request from the BDN this week saying the registration of doctors in Australia is regulated under state and territory laws and that the Commonwealth has no power to intervene. 

“These laws give responsibility for registering doctors to the Medical Board of Australia, which is an independent, profession-led board,” the spokesperson said.

“Specialist medical colleges are responsible for implementing workplace-based assessment pathways as they have the professional medical expertise necessary to conduct these assessments, and set the standards on which the assessments are based.” 

Both Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly and Member for Bega Andrew Constance contacted the BDN this week in support of Dr Ahrens.

“I wish to throw my full support behind Christoph,” Mr Constance said.

“We again have the potential to lose a well-respected surgeon.

“It seems crazy to send him away for a couple of years to train up on procedures he doesn’t use as an orthopaedic surgeon in the Bega Valley.”

Mr Kelly also called on RACS to review its assessment of Dr Ahrens' specialist recognition.

“The College should consider the best interests of our community and the impact on the people of Bega who risk losing Dr Ahrens,” he said.

REACTION

RACS welcomes inquiry recommendations, click here for its full statement

THE Department of Health and Ageing responded to a request from the BDN this week saying the registration of doctors in Australia is regulated under state and territory laws.

“These laws give responsibility for registering doctors to the Medical Board of Australia, which is an independent, profession-led board,” a department spokesperson said.

“The Commonwealth Government has no power to intervene in matters affecting the registration of doctors.

“The government response to Lost in the Labyrinth, which is currently under consideration and will respond to recommendations directed to the government, will not affect this.

“The Lost in the Labyrinth report recommended that specialist medical colleges adopt the practice of using workplace-based assessment during periods of peer review to assess the clinical competence of specialist international medical graduates (recommendation 8).

“This recommendation is not directed to the Commonwealth Government and is not a matter over which the government has any control.

“Specialist medical colleges are responsible for implementing workplace-based assessment pathways as they have the professional medical expertise necessary to conduct these assessments, and set the standards on which the assessments are based.”

MEMBER for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly called on RACS to review its assessment of Dr Ahrens's specialist recognition.

“The College should consider the best interests of our community and the impact on the people of Bega who risk losing Dr Ahrens.

“In the meantime, the Federal Government is getting on with the job of improving health services and facilities in Eden-Monaro.

“We have just received a briefing on the new, state-of-the-art $170million South East Regional Hospital in Bega.

“It is a hugely exciting project, it looks fantastic and is on schedule to be completed in early 2016.

“We are also building a $10m training facility to complement the new hospital, which will help us to attract and retain medical professionals in the area.”

Member for Bega Andrew Constance said he would throw his full support behind Dr Ahrens.

“There is still no answer from the Commonwealth regarding the recommendations that would allow Christoph to continue to practice.

“I am very, very keen for the Federal Government to get this fixed quickly.

“We again have the potential to lose a well-respected surgeon.

“It seems crazy to send him away for a couple of years to train up on procedures he doesn’t use as an orthopaedic surgeon in the Bega Valley.”