The conference started off with a series of speeches from the leaders of the major political parties. Health Minister Greg Hunt expressed his gratitude to our profession, the lifting of the Medicare freeze, and perhaps most importantly, he announced $47 million suicide prevention initiative with $1 million being set aside specifically to support the healthcare workforce.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and shadow Health Minister Catherine King delved a bit deeper into the planned Medicare freezes, highlighting what a small proportion of the health budget was allocated to increase Medicare rebates and to express their dissatisfaction of the amount of time it would take to re-index individual Medicare items.
Leader of the Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale (a former GP) spoke about the gap between indigenous health and the lack of substantial improvements in this area.
Message from the PM
The political speeches were rounded out on Saturday with an address from the Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull. He focussed on the Government’s commitments in the budgets to health and medical research. Like a lot of people, my eyes do tend to glaze over at talks of politics, but I must admit that I found it humbling to be addressed by the political leaders of our country.
I think it says a lot about the respect politicians have for the AMA; that their most senior members will accept an invitation to come speak to us at our conference.
I was able to see four of the panel discussions, focussing on organ donation, infectious diseases, doctors’ health and health policy. What struck me about all the sessions was the diversity of their members, from senior politicians such as Ken Wyatt MP to leaders in industry and senior doctors, patients to doctors in training including our President of the Council of Doctors in Training Dr John Zorbas.
All of the panel sessions had a high level of engagement from the audience, with interesting questions and anecdotes shared. The DiT WhatsApp chat also let us discuss topics amongst ourselves in real time (often with hilarious comments!).
A recurring focus throughout the conference was doctors’ health. Tribute was paid to Dr Chloe Abbott, an active member of the AMA. Dr John Zorbas submitted an urgency motion for the AMA to support the removal of mandatory reporting laws, which was passed unopposed (since then it looks as some changes will be made). Although this is one important barrier for seeking help, the consensus is that there is still much to be done within the culture and practice of medicine to look after ourselves and each other.
One such way to do this is engage a GP. The importance of primary care and the lack of GPs and generalist also came up repeatedly over the course of the conference, although there limited discussion on how we might remedy this issue.
A stand out event during the conference for me was the leadership dinner with keynote speaker Dr Bronwyn King (a quick bus ride to the venue gave me some time to get to know fellow AMA Members). Dr King, a radiation oncologist, has been pivotal in encouraging superannuation companies from divesting their investments in tobacco companies.
She recounts a story of her very first rotation as in intern, on a lung cancer ward. Fast forward 10 years and she offhandedly asks her financial planner what her super is invested in, and was horrified to find out four of the top five international investments were with big tobacco companies. Since then she has been campaigning to remove superannuation investments out of tobacco companies. Given that hundreds of thousands of children start smoking DAILY, and smoking causes significant health impacts – it is indeed a valiant effort.
Her work has led to the redirection of $6 billion of investment from the tobacco industry and she is now the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of ‘Tobacco Free Portfolios’. Dr King has also started a Pozible campaign to help get her verified tobacco free badge up and running, you can donate by going to https://pozible.com/project/verified-tobacco-free
The weekend as a whole was whirlwind but enjoyable. I think past president of the DiT AMA council Danika Thiemt summed it up best when she said that “finding the AMA was like finding her people”. All doctors care about our patients, but the AMA family cares about each other too.
*Dr Rebeka Stepto is Co-Chair of the AMA (ACT)’s Doctors in Training committee, and an RMO at Calvary Hospital.