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AMA President opens his last conference

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Dr Michael Gannon opened the AMA National Conference 2018 by figuratively saying goodbye.

In his last opening address as AMA President, which was at times emotional, Dr Gannon detailed a long list of achievements secured by the AMA during his two-year tenure.

And he poured praise on the organisation he said he enjoyed leading since 2016.

“I must say that it has been a huge honour and privilege to serve the AMA and the medical profession as Federal President,” Dr Gannon said.

“It is demanding, challenging, rewarding, and life-changing. The issues, the experiences, the depth and breadth of policy and ideas, and the interface with our political leaders and the Parliament are unique to this job.

“The responsibility is immense. The payback is the knowledge that you can achieve great things for the AMA members, the whole medical profession and, most importantly, the community, and the patients in our care.”

His address focused largely on the ground covered since the AMA met for national conference in 2017.

Describing it as a “very busy and very successful year for the Federal AMA,” Dr Gannon said time had passed very quickly in the job but much had been accomplished.

“Throughout the last 12 months, your elected representatives and the hardworking staff in the Secretariat in Canberra have delivered significant achievements in policy, advocacy, political influence, professional standards, doctors’ health, media profile, and public relations,” he said.

“We all worked tirelessly to ensure that health policy and bureaucratic processes were shaped to provide the best possible professional working environments for Australian doctors and the highest quality care for our patients.

“The unique role of the AMA in health advocacy is that we are looked to for commentary on the breadth and depth of health policy, social policy, and the health system.”

Dr Gannon said strong and robust advocacy led to a number of policy outcomes at the federal political level.

He said many organisations get nothing for their efforts, but the AMA never gives up.

“To be successful in Canberra, you have to learn to take the knocks along with the wins, then go back again and again for a better outcome,” he said.

“It is breathtakingly naïve to think it works otherwise. And that is what we have done, and keep doing.”

In 2017, the AMA launched its regular Safe Hours Audit Report, which gave added focus to the emerging issue of doctors’ health.

To enhance this focus on doctors’ health, AMA coordination of Doctors’ Health Services continues all around the country, with funding support from the Medical Board of Australia.

“We maintained a strong focus on medical workforce and training places, which resulted in the National Medical Training Advisory Network significantly increasing its workforce modelling work,” Dr Gannon told the conference.

“We secured a number of concessions in the proposed redesign of the Practice Incentive Program, as well as a delay in the introduction of changes.

“The AMA lobbied at the highest level for a more durable solution to concerns over Pathology collection centre rents. We focused on effective compliance, and achieving a fair balance between the interests of GP members and Pathologist members.

“We led the reforms to after-hours GP services provided through Medical Deputising Services to ensure that these services are better targeted, and there is stronger communication between them and a patient’s usual GP.

“We successfully lobbied the ACCC to renew the AMA’s existing authorisation that permits GPs to engage in intra-practice price setting. This potentially saves GPs thousands of dollars every year in legal and other compliance costs.

“We ensured a proportionate response from the Government in response to concerns over the security of Medicare card numbers. This avoided more draconian proposals that would have added to the compliance burden on practices, and added a barrier to care for patients.

“We fundamentally altered the direction of the Medical Indemnity Insurance Review.”

The AMA campaigned on the issue of doctors’ health and the need for COAG to change mandatory reporting laws, promoting the WA model.

It led a nationally coordinated campaign with the State AMAs and other peak bodies to uphold the TGA’s decision to up-schedule Codeine.

It campaigned against an inadequate, poorly conceived, and ideological National Maternity Services Framework, which has now been scrapped.

The 2018 AMA Public Hospital Report Card put the political, media, and public focus on the stresses and pressures on public hospitals and all who work in them. The current funding model, based entirely around payments for activity, discourages innovation and is inadequate in addressing the demands placed by an ageing population.

“We prosecuted the case for vastly improved Private Health Insurance products through membership of the Private Health Ministerial Advisory Committee, my annual National Press Club Address, an appearance before a Senate Select Committee, and regular and ongoing media and advocacy,” Dr Gannon said.

“This work was complemented by the launch of the AMA Private Health Insurance Report Card.

“We successfully lobbied for a fundamental change in the direction of the Anaesthesia Clinical Committee of the MBS Review. The Australian Society of Anaesthetists were grateful for our assistance and leadership. Many other Colleges, Associations and Societies have worked out that partnership with, rather than competing with, the AMA is the smartest way to get results.

“We launched a new AMA Fees List with all the associated benefits of mobility and regular updates.

“We saw a number of our Aged Care policy recommendations included in a number of Government reviews.

“We lobbied against what could easily have been an ill-thought-out UK-style Revalidation proposal. Our work resulted in a vastly improved Professional Performance Framework based around enhanced Continuing Professional Development.”

Dr Gannon said the AMA had provided strong leadership right across the busy public health landscape over the past year.

The AMA Indigenous Health Report Card focused on ear health, and specifically chronic otitis media.

The Federal Council endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart, acknowledging that Recognition is another key social determinant of health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

A product of a policy session at last year’s AMA National Conference was the subsequent updating of the AMA Position Statement on Obesity,

“I think that it is inevitable that we will eventually see a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages similar to those recently introduced in Britain and Ireland,” Dr Gannon said.

“In fact it is so simple, so easy, and so obvious, I worry that it will be seen by a future Government as a ‘silver bullet’ to what is a much more complex health and social policy issue.”

Position Statements on an Australian Centre for Disease Control; Female Genital Mutilation; Infant Feeding and Maternal Health; Harmful Substance Use, Dependence, and Behavioural Addiction; and Firearms were also highlighted.

“We conducted ongoing and prominent advocacy for the health and wellbeing of Asylum Seekers and Refugees,” he said.

“We promoted the benefits of immunisation to individuals and the broader community. Our advocacy has contributed to an increase in vaccination rates.

“We provided strong advocacy on climate change and health, among a broader suite of commentary on environmental issues.

“We consistently advocated for better women’s health services. And released a first ever statement on Men’s Health.”

New Position Statements were also released on Mental Health, Road Safety, Nutrition, Organ Donation and Transplantation, Blood Borne Viruses, and Rural Workforce.

“We promoted our carefully constructed position statement on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide during consideration of legislation in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and WA,” Dr Gannon said.

“That advocacy was not universally popular. Our Position Statement acknowledges the diversity of opinion within the profession…

“We led the medical community by being the first to release a Position Statement on Marriage Equalityand advocated for the legislative change that eventuated in late 2017.”

In July 2017, AMA advocacy was publicly recognised when the Governance Institute rated the AMA as the most ethical and the most successful lobby group in Australia.

Dr Gannon added that the highlight of the 2017 international calendar for him was the annual General Assembly of the World Medical Association.

“Outcomes from that meeting included high level discussions on end-of-life care, climate change and environmental health, numerous other global social and ethical issues, and seeing the inclusion of doctors’ health as a core issue in both medical ethics and professionalism,” he said.

“I get goosebumps when I read aloud the Declaration of Geneva. It is a source of immense personal pride that I was intimately involved with its latest editorial revision, only the fifth since 1948.

“But our focus remained at home, and your AMA was very active in promoting our Mission: Leading Australia’s Doctors – Promoting Australia’s Health.

“We had great successes. We earned and maintained the respect of our politicians, the bureaucracy, and the health sector.

“We won the support of the public as we have fought for a better health system for all Australians.”

Dr Gannon thanked his family, staff, the AMA Secretariat, Board and Federal Council.

CHRIS JOHNSON

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