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The view from the hustings

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Election 2013 is off and running, coinciding with my start at the AMA as Secretary General.

The first two weeks of campaigning were a health policy-free zone with very few commitments, other than those announced by the Greens.  The Greens’ policies have ranged across several issues of interest to the AMA including rural health and Medicare reforms, but without the funding to support the expenditure.

Week three saw a bit more life on the health policy front.

The first major health commitments by Labor included $100 million for the first stage of redevelopment of Westmead Hospital in western Sydney – nowhere near enough to complete the required works but a good start.

Labor also announced funds for other hospital upgrades and capital equipment, again with a significant focus on western Sydney but also recognising south-eastern Queensland, Melbourne and Adelaide.

During last week Labor also announced funding for stroke care and cancer care support attached to Medical Locals.

The AMA was pleased to see Labor also commit $250 million to a medical research innovation fund – with $125 million from the Government and $125 million from private investors.

Meanwhile, Minister Plibersek challenged Peter Dutton to a debate on health issues, which is now happening at the National Press Club on Tuesday 27 August.  We can expect Coalition health policy announcements ahead of and during the debate.

One possible announcement is support by the Opposition for the establishment of a medical school at Curtin University in the marginal Perth seat of Swan.  The Federal AMA and AMA WA do not support the establishment of any additional medical schools until training places can be guaranteed and have made this position very clear to the Opposition.

On a positive note, the Government announced an additional $8 million package to fund 60 intern places next year in regional and rural hospitals.

Despite several polls showing that health is a number two or three priority for voters (depending on which poll you read), neither of the main political parties has presented any significant health policies for consideration by the voters.

Much of the campaign to date has focused on the personalities, the opinion poll results, and diversions. The voters are looking for sensible policies that outline a clear vision for the next government, notwithstanding that both major parties are working within fiscally constrained budgets.

One of the landmark projects of the current Government came under fire (again) last week following the resignation of Dr Mukesh Haikerwal as head of clinical leadership and stakeholder management with the National Electronic Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).  Dr Haikerwal’s resignation, together with those of other clinical leads, reinforced longstanding AMA concerns about clinical input to decision-making in the implementation of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR).

The AMA has argued that the success of the PCEHR depends on how it meets clinical needs and will commit to working with the Government to ensure that clinical utility is addressed as a priority.

On a personal note, I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the health policy debate in my role as Secretary General.

I look forward to working with Australia’s diverse doctor population and to ensure that doctors and their patients remain central to Australia’s public policy considerations.