Transcript - AMA President doorstop - Marriage Equality; Vaccination

20 May 2017


Transcript: AMA President Dr Michael Gannon, Doorstop, 20 May 2017


Subjects: AMA calls for marriage equality; vaccination



MICHAEL GANNON: The AMA, the peak body representing doctors in Australia, today is calling for marriage equality. We've written to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader asking for a bipartisan approach to the issue. This is Australia's peak health body recognising the health impacts of discrimination against gay people. We have long recognised the mental health anguish of a lot of people questioning their sexuality; it's also a statement on the physical health impacts of discrimination.

So, too often in our hospitals we have situations where someone's loved one, their partner in life, is not able to exercise a decision on their behalf, whether that's an end of life decision or whether it's a decision on a treatment plan for a patient who has impaired competence to make that decision. This is a move that is very important to a lot of our members; we see this as a public health issue, removing the health impacts of one of the few remaining forms of discrimination in our society.

QUESTION: What are some of those health issues that you're talking about?

MICHAEL GANNON: Well, we've long known that LGBTIQ people suffer mental health problems, and part of that is from the discrimination that they suffer in society; there can be difficult times when they're coming to terms with their sexuality, so that's long been established, we know that there is a greater burden of mental health problems, drug and alcohol use.

The other reason this is so important to the AMA is that we are talking about our own; we are talking about our members, doctors themselves, other healthcare workers, who identify as gay or lesbian, it's so important that we recognise them in making this statement.

QUESTION: Do they just need to- parties just need to bury the hatchet on this, is that what you're saying?

MICHAEL GANNON: Well, I think that's important; I think it's time to move forward. So, it's not for the AMA to dictate exactly what the legislative program should be, but certainly I've written to the two most senior politicians in the country and asked them to try and move forward on this issue. Whether that is through a Bill before the Parliament, whether we go back down the road of the plebiscite, that's for the politicians to decide, but it's certainly time to move forward; it's certainly time to give all Australians the same rights.

QUESTION: What's the inertia causing- what problems is it causing, what do you think it's doing to the nation?

MICHAEL GANNON: Well, I think we have to acknowledge how difficult these decisions are. The AMA is coming out today to make this statement; I've got members that hold different views on this issue, issues like this are divisive. It will be difficult, it will be a difficult time. But other countries around the world have had this debate, they've had it in a respectful and mature way. Australia's peak health body, the AMA, says on behalf of doctors around Australia that we think it's time to remove this discrimination against a minority of our population and it's time to move forward. 

QUESTION: Why now? This debate's been going on for a long time, why has the Association decided now to do this?

MICHAEL GANNON: Well, our processes are that we discuss a number of issues and our peak decision body is our Federal Council, we made the decision at our most recent meeting. Like all policies, we look at the evidence; we see this as a public health issue. Discrimination has health impacts, both mental and physical. The AMA has looked at the evidence, we see the harms are brought upon our own and our patients every day. We think it's time to move forward.

QUESTION: Is the rate of people presenting with health problems increasing, is that what has prompted this?

MICHAEL GANNON: Well, certainly we are keenly aware of mental health problems increasing throughout society and we are also aware of the- of mental health problems amongst junior doctors, senior doctors alike. Now, of course, questions of sexuality don't lie behind all of those, but for at least that three per cent of Australians who identify as LGBTIQ, we know that they face discrimination, we know that amongst those are the doctors and nurses and other health workers that we're proud to call our colleagues; we want them to feel included in society and to enjoy perhaps one of the last rights that they don't enjoy in a fair and free society.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you about a- one other issue on aged care: there's some stats out today about WA's going to need 75,000 extra aged care beds by 2030. How big a burden is that ageing population going to place on spending, on public spending and just on society more broadly?

MICHAEL GANNON: Well, the ageing of the population is one of the drivers for the year on year increase in the size of the health budget, and that applies both to the community setting, to our public hospitals, and to our smaller hospitals. Too many patients occupy tertiary hospital beds because there's nowhere to place them and we need to do so much better with aged care. We need to value and respect our elderly; we need to make sure that they have high quality nursing care and are nursed in appropriate facilities. We've already had one conversation today about what it means to be a caring and compassionate society; surely the way we look after our elderly says a lot about who we are.

QUESTION: Just on yesterday's chemical scare at Sir Charles Gairdner, I'm not sure if you've got much information on that, all that we've been told is it was some sort of unstable chemical that was placed underground and had to be detonated. How much of a concern is it that something like that has happened at one of our major hospitals?

MICHAEL GANNON: I know nothing about the chemical scare at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

QUESTION: Just on another issue, Michael, the Vaxxed movie was screened last night and there's also been a move this week to establish an unvaccinated playgroup in Perth. How concerning is that?

MICHAEL GANNON: We're very concerned about false information being fed to people and sadly, what we see in the area of vaccination is confirmation bias of conspiracy theories. The film Vaxxed was made by a doctor who's been de-registered because he was found to have fraudulently made up scientific material. He was working in a wellness clinic in Cuba, now he's dabbling in short film. That's not where you get your health information from. You get it from serious scientific bodies like the Health Department and from your local GP. Vaccination represents the public health triumph of the last 50 years: diseases like measles, smallpox, polio, no longer damage and maim members of the community. Sadly, because they've been reduced from our sight, people get lazy in forgetting the carnage they can cause.

QUESTION: The woman who brought that film here says that she actually disbelieves herd immunity.

MICHAEL GANNON: In this job you get to hear all sorts of interesting theories about all sorts of interesting things. I would encourage people to look at the science. No one who has seen a loved one maimed by polio, no one who has seen a child in an intensive care unit with measles, no one who's seen someone killed by HIV meningitis questions the wisdom of the national immunisation program. Luckily, for some people, they've never seen these diseases, but vaccination, both childhood and adult, represents one of the most important weapons we have in terms of preventing disease.

QUESTION: WA's- given WA's low vaccinations rates and that movie last night was sold out, do you have, sort of, specific concerns for WA?

MICHAEL GANNON: We know that there's a one to two per cent minority of conspiracy theorists who love to get together and share their confirmation bias. I've got no chance of meeting- of meeting the minds of anyone who attended that movie, but what I am so interested in is making sure that the five, six, seven per cent of vaccine hesitant parents get accurate information and to reassure the greater than 90 per cent majority of Australian families that vaccination is a good news story; the risk benefit favours it at an individual level, at a community level, via herd immunity, we all benefit. Vaccination is the public health triumph of the last 50 years. I'm interested in scientific research on new vaccines, sadly the scientific community's spending a lot of time and resources disproving quack theories about the risks of vaccination.

QUESTION: With these rallies next week, the no jab, no play thing, what's the position of the AMA on that?

MICHAEL GANNON: No jab, no pay is a complex issue and the last thing we want to do is to make children pay for the sometimes ill-informed decisions of their parents. It's absolutely essential that children get full access to an education if- the more they learn about science, the more likely they are to make smart decisions on their own behalf and for their own children in the future. We have to applaud the success of no jab, no pay: an extra 210,000 children vaccinated since it was introduced. It's not a perfect measure, but we need to look at both carrots and sticks in public policy on this issue.


20 May 2017


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