Opponents feel they can’t say ‘no’

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Opponents of the RACGP’s planned governance changes want doctors to be fully informed before this month’s vote

Opponents of the RACGP’s planned governance changes have asked the college to send members emails detailing the concerns they have so that doctors can be fully informed before this month’s vote.

NSW faculty members made the request after the college last week distributed an article supporting the changes authored by RACGP vice president Edwin Kruys, titled Demystifying the Proposed Governance Model.

The proposed changes would install a seven-person “skills-based” board, comprised of four GPs (including the president, vice president and council chair) and three external directors with expertise in law, finance or other governance aspects.

This would remove decision-making powers from the current 14-member Council, which has representatives of state faculties, registrars and special areas including rural GPs, education and indigenous health, and two co-opted members.

The vote is to be held by email at an extraordinary general meeting on May 30.  But coinciding with Dr Kruys’ article last week, the college has already sent out emails inviting members to lodge proxy votes by May 28.

Former RACGP President Dr Liz Marles said Dr Kruys’ article was not branded as a “yes” case document, but it clearly argued for the proposed changes.

“That email is very much promoting the governance changes, and it is important that we have a critique so members can be informed,” Dr Marles told TMR.

She said time was running out for doctors to become aware of the ramifications.

The college, citing privacy reasons, last month refused a request from another NSW faculty member, Dr Karen Flegg, for access to email addresses in the RACGP members’ register so she could circulate a case against the reforms.

Dr Flegg said she was instead offered a list of mail addresses for the college’s 37,000 members for a fee of more than $1,000, an offer she declined because a physical mail-out would be costly and labour intensive.

Dr Flegg, who has sat on the RACGP Council as an honorary treasurer and NSW faculty representative, said she believed the college was obligated to ensure equal prominence for both cases.

“So far we have seen two videos for the ‘yes’ case, the first of which was posted eight weeks ago, and some discussion on the issues of the composition of the proposed board,” she said.

The “no” case video, presented by Professor Simon Willcock, was only posted on the RACGP website last Friday.

Dr Flegg said it was clear from discussions by GPs on Facebook and other social media that members were not fully informed.

It was important the motions for the EGM were not only displayed in a marked-up constitution, but that the rationale behind them was explained, she said.

Dr Marles has arranged with the college to argue the “no” case in a video to be produced on May 8, but she is concerned information about changes, that she says could disempower doctors, will not get out before some members cast their votes.

Adelaide University Professor Nigel Stocks, a former chair of Council, has added his voice to the opposition camp, saying a shift to a small, management-oriented executive could overturn the RACGP’s character.

“The college is a membership-based professional organisation, and as much as we want it to be well managed, we don’t want that to be at the expense of members,” he said.

Professor Stocks, like Dr Flegg a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, said the proposed model did not address the objective of the convocation item of 2013 that led to the governance review.

The desired outcome was “a college that is responsive to the needs of its members, faculties and the community we depend on for our patients”, he said.

“I really want to have some control as a member over how our college is run and the values (the board) inspires as the leading governance organ.”

The proposed structure looked more like an “experiment”, he said.

“No proper company in Australia would consider a structure which allowed its shareholders to direct the board’s decisions.

“Without the registrars, the state faculties and all of those groups who bring so much to the board currently, membership will lose a voice because the council will not make the decisions most important to the college. It will be an advisory council.”

Professor Stocks said the college might not be legally obliged to send out the “no” case, but “it would be the right thing to do”.

“That’s perfectly reasonable, especially as its coming from a faculty and a broad group, not just a few disgruntled people.“

Council Chair Dr Tim Koh said it was false and misleading to allege that the college had made it difficult for “no” case proponents to air their views.

The debate is continuing on the RACGP’s shareGP site and more videos “for” and “against” will be released in coming weeks.

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