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Nation’s diverse health needs underline high stakes in getting health policy right

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Over the past couple of weeks I have been travelling with AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler visiting members in different parts of Australia and hearing about their working lives, daily challenges and experiences as doctors.

These visits highlight the many differences in members’ practices, and in the needs of their patients. They also highlighted the commitment invested by doctors in ensuring the right care is given when needed.  The settings were as diverse as Amoonguna near Alice Springs and Bathurst Island north of Darwin.

I was very impressed with the energy of the trainee doctors we met in the Northern Territory.

Many of the trainees had spent time working in Indigenous health centres in different communities. They reflected on the changes in training for GP registrars as a result of the Budget and the possible impact on the GP pipeline into some of the tougher areas. Many said that they would not have gone down the general practice path if they have not had the chance of being part of it in the pre-vocational period. We need to ensure that these opportunities remain, even if in a different form.

Public health issues were at the fore in many of our discussions – from management of chronic disease to the impact of misuse of alcohol.

Public health experts pointed out that the life expectancy gap will be addressed from a health perspective in line with the Close the Gap initiatives, but that the social determinants of health will be the factors that impede achieving the targets – housing and employment.

Work is underway on shaping the National Alcohol Summit which the AMA will host in late October at Parliament House in Canberra.

The Summit will address multiple domains which look in detail at the impact of alcohol misuse – domestic violence, in association with sport, by teenagers, in Indigenous communities, and street violence.

The objective is to agree on a National Alcohol Strategy to replace the now defunct plan developed some years ago.

Last week, the AMA hosted its annual Parliamentary Dinner. It provided an opportunity for members of Federal Council, the State AMA CEOs, and colleagues from other health-related interest groups to meet with politicians from all political persuasions.

The dinner was addressed by A/Professor Owler, Minister for Health Peter Dutton, Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King and Greens health spokesman Senator Richard Di Natale.

The stakes are high in this session of Parliament, with the Government keen to get its Budget measures through.

For those commentators willing to consider the detail, the AMA’s proposal for an alternative approach to the co-payment has attracted some thoughtful responses.

The AMA Board spent two days at the end of the month in a strategic planning meeting to set the direction of the company for the coming period.

The decisions taken at the meeting will help determine priorities for investment and activity on behalf of AMA’s members, and opportunities to grow membership for the future.

I will report more in a future column.