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What the next RACGP president wants to change

 

Yesterday, the results were announced of the membership vote for the next president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. NSW GP Dr Harry Nespolon defeated two rival candidates, Queensland’s Dr Bruce Willett and Dr Jagadish Krishnan from Western Australia.

Dr Nespolon, who practises on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, was widely seen as a change candidate. He says he wants to see a cultural shift within the college: “It needs to move away from being an autocratic organisation to an organisation that does really care for its members”.

In interviews with the medical media and in an email mailout to RACGP members, he has outlined five key focuses for his term of office, which will start this October:

  • GP funding

Dr Nespolon says this is the number one issue, and neither the AMA nor the RACGP has done enough to fix the rebate issue. He says the timetable on rebate increases is too slow and is unacceptable. He plans to lobby the government to allow GPs to charge a gap and directly bill the government for the rest.

“The simple reality is that if the government is not willing to support rebates to a level that allows for quality general practice, then patients will be required to make relatively small contributions towards the most important aspect of their lives, their health,” he told Australian Doctor.

  • GP mental health

Dr Nespolon supports developing programs specifically targeting the mental health and well-being of GPs, addressing areas such as stress, burnout, depression and substance abuse.

  • AHPRA’s complaints process

AHPRA needs to improve the way that it treats doctors when complaints are made against them if it is to maintain their trust, Dr Nespolon says. He says he will use his position to lobby for a less onerous and stressful complaints process.

He also says he is not in favour of the Medical Board of Australia’s plan for mandatory checks on doctors aged 70 and over. A more targeted approach is necessary, he says.

  • Changes to PLAN

Dr Nespolon is opposed to the PLAN (Planning, Learning And Need) activity being a compulsory component of members’ CPD, although he concedes that this will require a vote of the RACGP Board and is not a change he can make himself.

  • Getting GP training right

The RACGP is being handed back control of GP training. Dr Nespolon says it is crucial that the college gets this right and that it is “an embarrassment” that the college has not been in charge for such a long time.

He says he is in favour of a separate administrative structure for GP training that is at arm’s length from the day-to-day administration of the college. One solution, he says, might be to manage training through a wholly-owned subsidiary.

RACGP’s spectacular backflip on marriage equality

 

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) executed a dramatic U-turn on marriage equality this week, which it now backs after initially claiming to be neutral on the issue.

Over the past few months, the number of medical colleges and associations officially coming out in support of marriage equality has grown to include the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, to name a few.

And yet the RACGP remained curiously silent, until last Wednesday, when RACGP President Dr Bastien Seidel wrote that the college’s council “acknowledged that the organisation has a diverse membership” and that it believed that in regard to marriage equality, “members should consider the issues involved carefully for themselves.”

But the college’s carefully neutral position unleashed a storm of criticism on social media and elsewhere, with many GPs expressing deep disapproval of their college’s stance. Former AMA President Dr Kerryn Phelps expressed her “surprise” at the RACGP’s neutrality. The college, she said, “should be a thought leader. This is unequivocally a health issue so the RACGP should take a stand.”

After around 750 GPs signed a petition demanding that the college change its position, its council hastily convened an emergency meeting on Monday.

The outcome of that meeting was a new statement from Dr Seidel, in which he acknowledged that marriage equality “is a human rights issue”.

“When I became RACGP President a year ago, I clearly outlined that the RACGP could no longer afford to sit on the fence when it came to any issue that affected our members or our patients. I deeply regret that I did not meet my own standard,” Dr Seidel wrote.

He said that the RACGP acknowledged that discrimination, bullying and harassment of LGBTIQ people has a severe and damaging effect on their mental and physical health.

“As part of valuing diversity and inclusion, RACGP Council supports marriage equality,” he wrote.

He said the council acknowledged the right of all members to hold and express their own views on marriage equality. However, the council urged all members “to provide particular care and consideration to LGBTIQ groups during this trying period.”

The turnaround comes as the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show around 60% of eligible Australians have already returned their marriage equality postal surveys, with the announcement of the results set for November 15th.