Federal Council communiqué
BY DR BEVERLEY ROWBOTHAM, CHAIR, AMA FEDERAL COUNCIL
The May meeting of Federal Council is condensed to one day immediately before the start of National Conference. While shorter in length, the breadth of matters brought to the Council remains significant. The meeting was the last for outgoing President, Dr Michael Gannon, and several other members – Drs Susan Neuhaus, Gary Geelhoed, Robyn Langham, Lorraine Baker, Stuart Day, Andrew Mulcahy, and John Zorbas. As a result of the election of incoming President, Dr Tony Bartone, and Vice President, Dr Chris Zappala, Drs Brad Frankum and Gino Pecoraro also completed their terms. All have been substantial contributors to the work of Federal Council, in some cases over many years.
Dr Gannon provided an overview of his last weeks in office with highlights including a tour of remote Indigenous communities with the Hon Warren Snowdon, the Federal Budget with its wins for workforce, and attendance at the Council meeting of the World Medical Association in Riga.
The Secretary General’s report highlighted several wins in the Federal Budget which were the result of AMA advocacy. Most important among these was the introduction of a comprehensive medical workforce package. This included the establishment of the Murray Darling Medical School Network with a number of participating medical schools offering end-to-end rural medical school programs; an expansion of prevocational GP places for doctors in training; additional GP training places earmarked for rural generalists; and an emphasis on supporting doctors undertaking training in rural areas.
A major win in the Budget was the overhaul of bonded medical places which will apply to all new participants from January 2020. Existing BMP and MRBS participants have the choice to opt in. The changes offer more certainty and flexibility in how return of service obligations can be satisfied. Federal Council heard that the Secretariat is receiving calls from members expressing their delight in the life-changing outcomes from these announcements.
The AMA’s sustained advocacy for workforce reform included a medical workforce and training summit held in March 2018. An important theme from the summit was the need for a whole of government approach to planning the future delivery of health care and for all governments to collaborate more effectively on workforce planning, training and coordination.
Federal Council noted AMA activity on issues impacting on practice including medical indemnity reforms, private health insurance reforms, the ongoing MBS review, and reports on the significant engagement with aged care policy reform.
The AMA’s public health advocacy remains a consistently strong area of activity. Federal Council received an advanced draft of the Position Statement on social determinants of health, and received updates from the working groups on child abuse and neglect, and health literacy.
The Ethics and Medico-Legal Committee continues its revision of the AMA’s Position Statement on Medical Practitioners’ Relationships with Industry. It has commenced a review of the Position Statement on Conscientious Objection.
Federal Council agreed with a recommendation from the AMA’s Taskforce on Indigenous Health that the AMA sign on to the joint statement by non-Indigenous Australians in support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Federal Council adopted the AMA Anti-Racism Statement which addresses racism in the medical workforce, and expresses support for good medical practice that reflects the cultural needs and contexts of patients.
The Council of Doctors in Training is working on the development of standardised questions to support State and Territory AMAs to run hospital health checks which measure and report on how well health services are meeting State-based industrial agreements and/or accreditation standards for doctors in training.
The Council of Private Specialist Practice has been considering a proposed website to support transparency of doctors’ fees. The Council noted the complexities of such a site and expressed its view that the site must be government-controlled. The Council also noted its concerns that such a website would be unmanageable if its aim is to capture every fee charged by a privately-billing doctor. Council acknowledged that there is a strong desire in government, and from consumers, to improve fees transparency and support patient awareness.
The Council of General Practice reported on the success of AMA advocacy in the Government deferring the introduction of the Practice Incentives Program Quality Improvement Incentive, which would have left many practices financially worse off. Five incentives scheduled to cease on 1 May 2018 will now continue until 30 April 2019.
The MBS Review, through its general practice and primary clinical care committee, is examining funding for GP visits to residential aged care facilities, including funding for telehealth consultation items. AMA advocacy has resulted in the referral to the MBS Review of consideration of funding for wound care items in general practice.
The Council of Public Hospital Doctors reported on its consideration of the impact of technology on workplaces, and the future of work and workers. Further analysis will be undertaken to look at potential industrial implications including task substitution, medico-legal issues, obsolescence, and outsourcing.
The Council of Rural Doctors outlined additional work that the AMA should undertake in considering rural doctor health. including longer working hours, lack of access to resources and professional support, professional and geographical isolation, and limited team support. The Council noted the work underway by the AMA subsidiary, Doctors’ Health Services Pty Limited, in sponsoring a trial of telemedicine consultations for rural doctors.
At the Annual General Meeting of members held on the day following the meeting of Federal Council, members voted unanimously to create a new position on Federal Council for a representative of Australia’s Indigenous doctors, nominated by the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, and who is a member of the AMA.