Dr Nicole Higgins wins RACGP presidency

4 minute read

The Mackay GP has won the voting on preferences, with Dr Chris Irwin coming second.

RACGP members have elected Queensland GP Dr Nicole Higgins as their next president.

Coming in second was Australian Society of General Practice president Dr Chris Irwin, who won the primary vote by a slim margin.

Dr Higgins, who has been the chair of GP Supervisors Australia and is a member of the RACGP’s Queensland Faculty Council, said her first step would be to develop relationships within the RACGP.

“I’ve already spoken with government,” she told TMR today. “It’s also ensuring that we get the transition of training across the line.”

Last month Dr Higgins told TMR‘s Tea Room podcast: “The trick with dealing with government is knowing when to work quietly and negotiate in the background, and when to push back loudly, and I’ve shown the capacity to do both,” she says. “I’m not afraid to speak out when we need to.”

The RACGP also announced this morning it had signed a contract with the government to deliver training, a transition first announced in 2017.

Dr Irwin congratulated Dr Higgins on the win.

“I urge the current board and the new president that they can’t waver and accept any terrible compromise, whether that’s in the form of capitation, or a tiny increase in rebates with strings attached,” he told TMR.

After preferences, there were about 500 votes separating first and second place.

This election was relatively well-attended, with around 6500 votes cast – a significant improvement over the last election, when just over 4000 college members voted.

Sydney GP Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe came third on first preferences, winning 1107 votes, where Dr Irwin won 1792 and Dr Higgins 1593. On preferences, Dr Higgins had 2767 and Dr Irwin 2347.

The other candidates were Dr Brad Murphy (594), Dr Chris Ogonowski (558), Dr Kate Wylie (409) and Dr Julian Fidge (390).

Dr Higgins has been replaced as GPSA chair today by Townsville GP and GPSA deputy chair Dr Kevin Arlett. He said it was “a relief to know the College will be in such good hands. The RACGP membership has chosen wisely, demonstrating the value Australian GPs place on a commitment to driving improvements and recognition for the profession.”

Dr Higgins said the numbers showed that “there are a large amount of doctors out there who are disaffected with the RACGP. This has been that opportunity to reset.

“I think Chris had a very specific style and audience. He has also done this before, so he’s aware of what’s involved in the presidency, he had the support of the corporates, and he had a very effective advertising campaign.”

Dr Irwin’s policy platform looked at increasing the power of the college as an advocacy body, and he had pledged to donate his entire $250,000 presidential salary to professional lobbying if he won.

“The largest block of GPs in the election voted for professional lobbying, to stop capitation and kill voluntary patient enrolment, and for increased advocacy and grassroots organisation,” Dr Irwin said.

“I see it as a victory for the coalface GP for me to get the most primary votes.”

Dr Higgins will officially take over from Adjunct Professor Karen Price at the RACGP’s 2022 annual general meeting on Thursday 24 November.

In a press release from the college, Professor Karen Price congratulated her successor.

“I have full confidence you will be a strong advocate for GPs and continue the critical work of the college to advance general practice and ensure everyone across Australia can access world class care,” she said.

“We have come a long way in a short space of time, but there is still much to be done. The pandemic is not over, and at the same time, years of underfunding and neglect have put general practice in crisis.

“The lost decades of underinvestment in general practice have also led to the GP workforce shortage, which is particularly severe in rural and remote communities.”

She said the training transition was an opportunity to improve the distribution of GPs across the country.

“However, Australia’s leaders urgently need to address the root of the crisis to ensure the future of general practice and access to world class care for everyone across the country. This means re-thinking healthcare funding in Australia, which is skewed to focus on treating illness, rather than preventing it. This is despite all the evidence showing investment in primary care saves lives, improves health outcomes, and is much more cost effective.

“I am confident Dr Higgins will take the challenges head on, and prosecute the many opportunities to advocate for GPs, and the future of high-quality GP care in our country.”

This story has been updated.

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