President and CEO update - April 2024

April’s endeavours have honed in on some of our advocacy priorities, focusing on preventative health and workforce in the lead up to the state budget.

April’s endeavours have honed in on some of our advocacy priorities, focusing on preventative health and workforce in the lead up to the state budget. This included the announcement of our Surgical Wait List Roundtable and Budget Submission 2024-25, both aiming to prioritise the resources and support needed to incentivise the workforce.

In the lead up to the winter months, preventive health also remains at the centre of everything we do. We have already seen significant numbers of respiratory illness cases compared with this time last year and are focusing on encouraging the uptake of available vaccines to minimise health risks and hospitalisations.

GP trainees need assistance

AMA Queensland has released its Budget Submission with urgent calls to the State Government to follow the lead of Tasmania and Victoria and offer better funding for GPs to reincentivise the workforce.

Despite the growing demand for GPs, the number of medical school graduates choosing general practice as their speciality has decreased from about 50 per cent to less than 15 per cent over the past 40 years.

This trajectory is largely due to the lack of compensation and the increased competition from other states and territories making it financially challenging for so many medical students to become GPs in Queensland.

The Victorian Government has offered $40,000 grants to trainee doctors who enrol in a general practice training course, and the Tasmanian Government has promised to pick up HECS/HELP debt of up to $100,000 to attract 40 new GPs to work in rural and regional areas.

To head off the looming workforce crisis we need the Queensland Government to do the same and compensate junior doctors who make huge financial sacrifice to train as GPs.

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Surgical wait list roundtable

In response to growing elective surgery wait lists in regional and rural areas, AMA Queensland is convening a new roundtable to examine the issue and identify practical, affordable actions the government can take to address inequities in access.

Despite the name, elective surgery is not optional. The longer a patient must wait for elective surgery, the more likely their condition will deteriorate and result in them ending up in emergency departments, increasing the pressure on our public health system.

This is having a flow-on effect on our regional health workforce. Our members tell us the strenuous working conditions may lead to clinical errors, with doctors now basically always on-call and performing a disproportionate amount of emergency work compared to their metropolitan colleagues.

The lack of services and workforce in regional and rural areas are the main priority for the roundtable, as is supporting those already working in those regions.

Clinicians from a wide range of specialty areas with expertise in surgical services and regional and remote practice, particularly in Darling Downs, Wide Bay, Central Queensland, Mackay and Townsville HHSs, are invited to submit expressions of interest by COB 23 April 2024.

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Meningococcal B

The rollout of the free Meningococcal B vaccine to children under two years and older teenagers began on 1 March, with GPs administering the vast majority of the 32,420 doses given in the first 40 days.

We commend the Queensland Government for heeding our advice and making the Men B strain vaccine available free and are pleased to see a large uptick in vaccination rates, particularly through general practice.

While the Meningococcal A, C, W and Y strain vaccines are free for older teenagers and infants under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), the B strain – the most prevalent strain in Queensland - is not included.

AMA Queensland has been calling for the Men B vaccine to be added to the NIP since 2017. While the Federal Government has not yet made the change, the Queensland Government has acted.

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RSV antibody program

The Queensland Government has followed our recommendation and joined Western Australia in announcing a free Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) antibody program for infants.

We always welcome any vaccine being made more accessible, particularly at the moment when patients could be facing the choice between buying medications or food. With 65 percent of infants suffering from the virus within their first year of life, the program makes sense to keep babies well and out of hospital.

The vaccine rollout is now underway, with newborn babies able to be immunised prior to discharge from hospital.

The second phase of the program planned, to commence in late April, will initially target babies three months and younger and vulnerable infants with certain complex medical conditions up to eight months.

Due to the vaccine's limited supply, primary care suppliers will be required to identify the approximate numbers of eligible patients they will immunise over the coming fortnight when placing their vaccine order.

Providers will be able to order the vaccine from 22 April 2024.

Further clinical guidance for suppliers can be found via the QPRSVP Program webpage

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COVID infection control

In late 2023, AMA Queensland wrote to Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard expressing members' concerns about rising COVID cases and inadequate infection controls within Queensland Health hospitals.

The CHO wrote back to let us know that he and the Chief Infection Control Nurse will systematically visit as many Queensland hospitals as possible to understand the challenges and work on individual solutions.

Despite what appears to be an increase in Queensland Health staff absences due to illness, the CHO has not yet commenced these hospital visits.

We have since written to the Acting CHO Assoc Prof Catherine McDougall with continued concerns.

Specifically, we have requested an update on the likely dates for the hospital visits, and proposed discussion topics and considerations as expressed by our members.

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Disaster management preparedness

AMA Queensland met with the Acting CHO and Queensland Health Disaster Management team to discuss improvements in disaster management preparedness in response to the recent natural disasters in North Queensland.

Queensland Health agreed better coordination with Local and District Disaster Managements Groups (DDMGs), GPs and PHNs was needed as well as improved access to capital infrastructure and other essential supplies in the event of a disaster to guarantee ongoing healthcare.

The Acting CHO agreed to collaborate on better coordination for GP services, expanded doctors’ bags to include essential medicines and changes to telehealth items.

We look forward to continued liaison with Queensland Health to guarantee the health and safety of doctors and communities during natural disasters.

Pill testing

The Queensland Government announced its commitment to reducing the risks of harms associated with illicit drug use by rolling out a free, voluntary and confidential pill testing service.

We fully support pill testing as an opportunity for people to understand the potential dangers of drugs and minimise harm through education and resources.

The testing service began at the Rabbits Eats Lettuce Festival over the 2024 Easter long weekend. From the 210 substances checked at the event, 14 samples were discarded into the amnesty bin.

Queensland is now the second Australian jurisdiction to offer pill testing and will set up its first fixed-site clinic in Bowen Hills this April with a second site to be confirmed.

We are pleased to see the government recognise the significance of harm minimisation and look forward to seeing positive behavioural change.

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Flu vaccine

Following AMA Queensland advocacy, Queensland Health announced the flu vaccine would be made available for free from the beginning of the flu season, rather than mid-season as has been done previously.

GPs were informed in advance to better help them prepare, and we are now seeing stock of flu vaccines arrive at all GP clinics.

This rollout has now commenced, and the vaccine is currently available to all Queenslanders over the age of six months.

After a significant flu season in 2023, it is important everyone, particularly those who are pregnant, have a chronic illness, are over the age of 65, or under five, accesses the free vaccine.

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Medicare inequities

AMA Queensland has long been calling for Medicare reform to address its failure to keep up with inflation and the cost of providing particular services. We know inequity has become a prevalent issue because of this failure.

A prime example is the current limited access to long-acting reversible contraception despite it being the gold standard.

The cost of an IUD is only $75, whereas the cost to have it inserted is hundreds due to the procedure's complex nature requiring multiple appointments. At a time where cost pressures are biting, this is limiting women's ability to exercise control over their own reproductive health.

Another example is the fact the tripling of the Medicare Bulk Billing incentive payments does not apply to antenatal or mental health consultations with a GP. This is essential health care and must receive equitable funding. 

We do not want Australia to end up with a two-tier health system where some people can afford care and some people can't. Our government must invent in reform now to guarantee the health and safety of Queenslanders and prevent people landing in hospital.

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AMA Queensland invites friends, colleagues, and professionals to the biggest black-tie gala for doctors this year – our AGM and Dinner for the Profession.

Join us to recognise our members’ achievements, celebrate 130 years of medical advocacy and inaugurate our new AMA Queensland President over drinks, a delicious three-course meal and a string quartet.

Registrations are now open, and we look forward to seeing you donning your red carpet attire for the dinners Cannes Film Festival theme.

The event will be held at Voco Hotel Brisbane on 24 May 2024.

Register now

GPTQ bursaries

Queensland GP Fellows and Registrars are invited to apply for $20,000 training and research bursaries honouring the legacy of General Practice Training Queensland (GPTQ).

For 20 years, GPTQ delivered the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) program, supporting Queensland doctors to achieve recognition as GPs.

After the transition to college-led GP training in 2023, GPTQ ceased operating and AMA Queensland Foundation was selected to establish a dedicated bursary in GPTQ’s honour.

The Foundation provides scholarships f or medical students who are undergoing hardship, and in 2024, four GP registrars were awarded bursaries to support their research and training endeavours.

Applications close 5pm AEST Monday 29 April.

Apply now

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