Even after the demands of a global pandemic Professor Kidd is still fighting the good fight to transform primary health.
In early 2020, Professor Michael Kidd AO was working abroad for the World Health Organization when he got a call from the Australian government asking him to get back home quick smart.
Three years later he has wrapped up his stint as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for a new role that he hopes will supercharge primary healthcare in Australia with powerful research.
His new role? Director of the new Centre for Future Health Systems, based at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and Oxford University in the UK.
What’s keeping you most busy right now?
Establishing this new Centre for Future Health Systems from scratch and identifying the most important areas for our initial focus. At the moment I’m talking to lots of health system leaders, policymakers, researchers, and others both here and around the world.
I’m also very actively involved in recruiting the initial core group of researchers. It’s one of the things that’s different about this research centre – it’s not just based in the faculty of medicine. The solutions to future health challenges don’t just rest with doctors and nurses and other health professionals.
Everybody in the community has a contribution. We’re recruiting researchers from computer science, from architecture and design, from law and ethics, from business and health economics, from social science – many other disciplines outside of health.
What’s does the Oxford University partnership mean, aside from a lot of street cred?
It means that we have access to researchers, including clinical researchers who are working in health systems in different countries. Both UNSW and Oxford University are very much outward focused and have lots of research partnerships and collaborations with lead researchers in many other countries. We’re hoping the centre will then be able to both draw on experience from countries all around the world and also share those experiences with people all over the world.
What role do consumers have in designing health of the future?
Everybody should have a voice in the decision-making about healthcare. One of the lessons I learned very early in my career as a GP was that my best educators are my patients and especially those who are living with chronic conditions who understand those conditions far more than I do.
We also recognise that young people, the next generation coming through, are invested in what future health systems are going to look like, how healthcare is going to be delivered. Digital elements are absolutely essential.
One of the really exciting things about UNSW is a very strong program supporting student entrepreneurship. There are many amazing students from across the university who are actively investigating new ways of doing things. They are opening our eyes as to how we might do things a whole lot better.
Speaking of big impacts, you were Australia’s deputy Chief Medical Officer during the pandemic.
I have never worked so hard in all my life! Even as an intern. I worked longer hours in that government role than I did when I was a medical intern back in the 80s. It was, though, an extraordinary privilege to be in a role like that at a time like that in our nation’s history.
I’m just very grateful to have had that experience. I’ve always had respect for the people who work in our health departments but working day to day with these people during the pandemic was inspiring. Watching how everyone went so far beyond the call of duty to do all they could do to protect health and well-being of people in our nation was incredible.
I have also never seen the leaders of our professional organisations work so well together. Any sense of past competition was kept outside the room. Everybody was just working together. It was an extraordinary time.
Was there ever a time that your professional views didn’t align with the direction taken?
I’ve been sitting on advisory committees and boards to government since the late 1980s.
One of the rules that I’ve learned – never give up on something you feel passionate about and you feel is going to make a real difference. If you don’t succeed the first time around, keep going. Because sometimes it’s just a matter of bringing more people into understanding. Or it’s a matter of things changing just a little bit in order for that issue that you feel strongly about to become the major priority.
Another thing I learned very early on is that you provide your opinion on what might need to happen and wherever possible, that opinion has been informed by evidence. Then you recognise that all that advice goes into a mix, which is informed by advice from many other sources; it’s informed by the political realities of the day and by finance and funding decisions. Providing the finances for one initiative often means that you won’t be providing finances for another set of initiatives. So, your opinion is all part of the mix.
What opportunities do you see for the future of health?
The area that my centre is going to focus on in particular is the way that we deliver healthcare services – looking at strengthening primary care and strengthening the services which are delivered through the community; looking at how we use new technologies in ways that improve the safety and the quality of healthcare being delivered; working with clinicians and researchers in our hospital system for ways that we can transform aspects of hospital-based care and virtual care in ways that better meet the needs of individual patients in the community communities we serve.
At the federal level, the work of the Strengthening Medicare Task Force and initiatives such as MyMedicare is important. Australia will focus on multidisciplinary care and bringing healthcare providers together to optimise care particularly for people with chronic health challenges.
Is there any low-hanging fruit?
Absolutely. The low-hanging fruit are the lessons from covid which has shone a real spotlight on neglected areas and priority populations.
I think also low-hanging fruit are the recommendations from the Australian Government on strengthening primary care from, for example, the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce.
Wildcard question, if you could play any character in a movie, who would it be?
I was at high school in the 1970s so I was very influenced by Star Wars. I’d like to be Obi-wan because he’s articulate and wise. He’s a great negotiator. He fights the good fight. He is also very focused on nurturing the next generation. He’s steadfast.
Obi-Wan the original by Sir Alec Guinness? Or the later version with Ewan McGregor?
I’ll let your audience decide.
May the force be with you.