Melbourne GP and former AMA vice president Dr Tony Bartone was elected to the presidency of the AMA at the conclusion of the Association’s conference on Sunday. He beat two other candidates, Professor Brad Frankum, president of the AMA’s NSW branch, and Brisbane obstetrician Dr Gino Pecoraro.
Does the changing of the guard signify any change of emphasis or policy at the head of the AMA? In his acceptance speech at the AMA conference and in subsequent media interviews, Dr Bartone has urged action and says “the time for rhetoric is over”. Here are some of his key priorities in the coming two years:
- Renewed focus on general practice
Electing a GP to the presidency of the AMA sends a strong message to the government about the importance of primary care, Dr Bartone says. A decade of cuts has “systematically starved” general practice of funding and put pressure on the viability of practices around the country. The new AMA president wants “significant, targeted investment in general practice, rewarding patient-centred care”. The 55-cent rebate increase due in July after years of rebate freeze is “insulting”, he says.
He says that with the right support, GPs can help governments deliver “more health care, more efficiently, more timely, and to more Australians”. That support means rewarding work that is not just face-to-face consultations, but also efforts to prepare, structure and curate detailed health records that will become the backbone of My Health Record.
- Equitable access to healthcare
Dr Bartone says he wants significant investment to address inequitable access to services. That includes better funding of public hospitals, access to mental health care, quality aged care service provision, and access to health care services in remote and rural areas. He says we need to “change the paradigm of the way we support, fund and maintain a high-quality health system”.
- Training workforce pipeline
There are “enormous bottlenecks” in the training pipeline, which “not robust and almost broken”. This translates into a need for a national workforce strategy with quality flexible training solutions, Dr Bartone says.
- Private health
Dr Bartone’s predecessor, Michael Gannon, lobbied for more transparency and value in private health insurance. The new AMA president says he will continue to lobby for reform but he adds that private health insurance is an essential piece of the health puzzle, noting that 53% of elective surgery occurs in private hospitals. If that were to collapse, it would place an intolerable burden on public hospitals, he says.
Interestingly, he has hinted that private insurers may have a role to play in funding GP consultations, although he adds that it is “not a priority”.
- Doctors’ health
Dr Bartone says doctors’ health is an area that he is particularly passionate about. He wants an added focus on supporting colleagues who are experiencing mental health and well-being issues. He says he will work with the government and stakeholders to resolve the impasse over mandatory reporting and to ensure bullying, harassment and discrimination are a thing of the past.
While Michael Gannon was keenly opposed to Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying legislation, the new AMA president may be a little less invested in this area. He says he agrees with the AMA’s most recent position statement, which acknowledges “divergent views” among doctors concerning euthanasia and states that laws governing its practice are “ultimately a matter for society and government”.
- Asylum seekers
It seems unlikely that Dr Bartone will be returning to the asylum seeker advocacy of Michael Gannon’s predecessor, Brian Owler. When prompted by a Sky News reporter on the welfare concerns of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, Dr Bartone had little to say other than that there are international conventions and that treatment of refugees should be “no less than the minimum that’s required”. He did not mention the asylum seeker issue in his acceptance speech.