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Surgeons Warn About Cheap Spare Parts for PatientsWed, 08 Sep 1999

Any attempt by private health funds to force doctors to use cheap spare parts in patients will be fiercely resisted, chairman of the Australian Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Dr John Harrison, said in Sydney today.

"Caring doctors will not be putting anything into patients that they do not believe is the most appropriate for them," Dr Harrison said.

Dr Harrison said a scheme announced last month by health fund giant MBF in Queensland to put out its members' hospital costs to competitive bidding on 'all in prices' for services will inevitably force hospitals to dictate to doctors that they must user cheaper replacement parts, fewer diagnostic services and shorter length of stays.

MBF recently left hospital managers in Queensland shellshocked when it gave them only 9 weeks to put in tenders quoting all in prices for nearly 300 treatments. MBF, which controls 50 per cent of the Queensland market, has said that only 70 per cent of the 90 per cent of hospitals which MBF currently contracts with will win contracts - putting hospitals under further financial pressure.

'A single price for the whole procedure, particularly one that includes diagnostics and drugs, will impact on clinical decision making," said Dr Harrison. "What MBF is doing is limiting patient choice based on economics."

"The human body is infinitely variable," says Dr Harrison. "One implant will not fit all. There are practical reasons why different implants are needed."

''For some of the more complicated knee operations a prostheses can cost $12,000. Wherever you see a low price on an implant there is usually a reason for it.

"MBF is on the brink of introducing into Australia the very worst of the American style system that we have been warning about for years. And they are cleverly forcing cash strapped hospitals to do the dirty work for them.

"They - the Government and the funds - said it would never happen but it has happened."

Senior Sydney orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Mervyn Cross, warned that strict restrictions would deny patients access to the newest materials and techniques available.

"The newer models of prostheses cost more but avoid the need to repeat the procedure because they last longer," said Dr Cross. "A hospital which is forced to dictate an average based on price is unable to look at the bigger picture."

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