AMA vote falls amid health-policy maelstrom

4 minute read

AMA delegates are about to choose a new president in the thick of a federal election campaign


AMA delegates are about to choose a new president in the thick of a federal election campaign where health policy is emerging as a key battleground  

Current vice-president Dr Stephen Parnis, a consultant emergency physician at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital, is running for the top post against AMA WA president Dr Michael Gannon, a Perth obstetrician. 

The winner of the election will have to walk off the stage on 29 May and immediately take responsibility for AMA leadership for health in the election campaign,” Dr Parnis told TMR.

“I’m across the agenda. I have a successful track record at a state and national level of advocacy, and I would prosecute the case for the AMA with clarity and absolute impartiality.”

Dr Parnis, a former head of AMA Victoria, said he believed the medical profession and the health system were at a crossroads, with no guarantee that Australians would continue to enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of healthcare.

“We have a Medicare freeze that looks like being seven years in duration, public hospitals struggling under enormous demand and chronic underfunding, and an ageing population,” Dr Parnis said.

Yet the response of government, regulators and insurers had been to seek greater control over doctors.

“As the AMA is the strongest voice for the medical profession in Australia, we need to have expert, articulate and measured commentary and policy innovation from the AMA. The AMA president must always be a force for clarity and the best available evidence. That’s always been my style.”

Dr Gannon, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco, said he wanted to see an end to stopgap solutions in health policy, beginning with the MBS rebate freeze.

Though welcome, the coalition’s $2.9 billion handout to the states to fund public hospitals was “still a Band-Aid; there’s no plan for funding going forward”, he said.

 He would also push for funding plans for mental-health beds, indigenous health and coordinated care for diabetics.

 Dr Gannon said governments did not take such initiatives seriously unless they had dollars attached but added the AMA’s relationship with government could be improved by a closer focus on core issues.

 “There is so much to talk about in terms of things that go right to the heart of the health system,” he said.

 Dr Gannon also suggested the profession needed to have a “grown-up conversation” about reducing medical-student numbers.

  “We are heading for a disaster in terms of oversupply of doctors,” he said,  “… doctors who can’t get training positions to get into independent practice.”

The AMA will also elect a new vice-president on 29 May, at its national conference in Canberra.

Dr Brian Morton, the outgoing chair of the AMA Council of General Practice, is one of two GPs vying for the deputy’s role.

If elected, the Sydney GP and former AMA NSW president said he would draw on his long representative experience to boost awareness that primary care carried a lot of the load in making Australia’s health system one of the world’s best.

 “The AMA’s strength is that it represents the whole profession. No one can hijack the conversation, it’s a balanced approach, and I think that’s why governments listen,” Dr Morton said.

 On Medicare, he said the government had a duty to support access and equity, but GPs would need to protect their long-term viability by valuing their services appropriately. 

His opponent is Dr Tony Bartone, a Melbourne GP, the immediate past president of AMA Victoria and chair-elect of the Council of General Practice.

Dr Bartone said there were “burning issues” for the AMA to take to government.

 “It’s really important that we are at the table when critical decisions are made, not only about the medical profession … but public-hospital funding and the accessibility and affordability of health care, especially for underprivileged groups and people in the regions,” he said.

 “We need to make sure the voice of the membership is heard by government when it is making these decisions.”

The AMA president and AMA vice president each serve a term of two years.

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