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18 Jul 2016

As our nation’s capital slowly adjusts to the fallout of a long election campaign and a small majority Coalition Government it is an opportune time to start planning and advocating health policy, which was clearly a resounding issue of the campaign. 

There is a significant opportunity for the AMA to help shape the health policy debate. Our President, Dr Michael Gannon, has been very visible the last few weeks promoting the AMA’s election priorities and setting down the groundwork for meaningful future conversations, especially regarding the funding and sustainability of our health system. I hope to assist in some of that dialogue and discussion.

We are all too aware of the medical workforce crisis and the lack of any semblance of a workforce strategy. All graduates should be entitled to appropriate opportunities for post-graduate training. The failure of the medical training system to produce graduates to work in regional and remote Australia is contributing to the lower health status and life expectancy of people living in these areas. The AMA’s Community Residency Program should be adopted to encourage more young doctors to choose a career in general practice and to work in regional and remote Australia.

I am passionate about putting this issue and others front and centre of the AMA’s agenda. I believe the AMA should be advocating for:

  • acknowledging the increasing burden of ageing and chronic conditions, and the central role of GPs in the management of these conditions;
  • palliative care - providing compassionate and easily accessible health care;
  • aged care - especially the lack of continuity in family doctor care options for residents;
  • mental health - especially community care  options including subacute public care facilities. Many GPs are forced to deal with situations beyond their professional capability or comfort because of a lack of other options, especially in regional and remote areas;
  • access to the same quality and range of public health endeavours and outcomes in rural and regional areas as in urban areas;
  • prevention - exercise, healthy eating, alcohol and drugs, health literacy and education, are just a few areas where small investments can drastically change the health of Australians; and
  • doctor health and wellbeing.  

We are constantly told that the health system is unsustainable and there are insufficient funds. We need to focus on the areas of waste and duplication and ensure the savings are ploughed straight back into health. There are many examples including:

  • delays in OPD visits/elective waiting list deferrals, often with unnecessary amounts of additional medications to manage complications of pain and or increased morbidity;
  • time consuming amounts of red tape, especially the paperwork required to access systems rather than relying on our clinical acumen; and
  • the duplication of pathology tests and other investigations between hospitals and private practice.   

What often angers me are unnecessary hospital delays and burgeoning OPD and waiting lists. The never-ending quest for e-health records is another. More than seven years grappling with the PCEHR and its successors is an area of frustration. Though initially promising ideas, clinical advice and engagement has been ignored in their execution. Opt-out trials, hopefully, will rescue the situation and ultimately provide the answer to more timely and efficient interventions and outcomes for all areas of the health system.

Some people have asked me about why I became seriously involved in AMA. After many years of membership I found that I was constantly frustrated and sick of waiting for someone else to make the lives of others better. Patients depend on us. I feel that I should, and could, do more for them and for the health system with advocacy, rather than the one-to-one care of patients alone. 

Personal family experiences, including watching ageing parents and loved ones deal with the complexities and tortuousness of the public health system, only further strengthened my resolve to give something back.

For the many friends I have made, and the many colleagues and mentors I have worked with, advocacy on behalf is just one of the ways of thanking them for their enormous wisdom, insight and dedication.

Published: 18 Jul 2016