Sign in with your email address username.


Doctors get their own dedicated national health service

All doctors and medical students will have access to a health service dedicated to meeting their needs no matter where they live and work following a landmark agreement between the AMA and the Medical Board of Australia.

The Medical Board has contracted the AMA, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Doctors Health Services Pty Ltd (DHS), to ensure specific health services for medical practitioners and students are accessible nationwide.

The deal is the culmination of years of work to provide doctors with nationally consistent health services that cater specifically for their needs amid concerns that often practitioners have gone untreated for significant health problems that not only harm them but may place their patients at risk.

The Medical Board announced last year that it would fully fund a national health program for doctors and medical students, and Chair Dr Joanna Flynn said the contract with the AMA was an important milestone in achieving that goal.

“The Board is committed to supporting the wellbeing of all doctors and medical students in Australia,” Dr Flynn said. “Creating health services that are accessible and fair to everyone – and are targeted to meet doctors’ needs – is a really important contribution we are proud to make.”

The announcement of a dedicated national health program for medical practitioners has come just weeks after the medical community was rocked by the sudden death of four young doctors in Victoria. And a 2013 beyondblue report showed that psychological distress, burnout and suicide were disturbingly common among doctors and medical students.

There are long-standing concerns that many doctors with mental health problems, issues of substance abuse and physical ailments have been reluctant to seek help for fear it will harm their career.

There has been a call to rigorously address the reasons some doctors find it hard to seek and obtain help, including the culture of the profession, the work environment, the training culture, and mandatory reporting.

While there has been a gradual increase in the number of health services specifically for doctors, AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis recently said current arrangements were inadequate, and the AMA had for a long time strongly advocated for a national model to support the work of the services that make up the Australasian Doctors’ Health Network.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said the establishment of Doctors Health Services would deliver on that goal.

While the Medical Board will fund the program, A/Professor Owler emphasised that it would play no role in its operation or the delivery of services.

“Critically, the services will remain at arm’s length from the Medical Board to ensure that doctors and medical students trust these services and use them at an early stage in their illness,” he said.

Existing doctor health services will be invited to express interest in continuing as a provider. Under the new contract arrangements, they will be required to provide confidential triage and referral services, health advice and education, training for practitioners to treat other doctors and facilitation of support groups.

DHS will have a five-member Board including an AMA representative, a doctor in training representative and a medical practitioners with experience in providing doctor health services. The Board will be supported by an expert advisory committee made up of service providers, medical students, doctors in training and AMA representatives.

Adrian Rollins