NSW AMA President Brad Frankum is making a bid for the peak body’s national leadership, with Melbourne surgeon Jill Tomlinson as his running mate.
Dr Frankum, an allergist and immunologist in the NSW hospital system, made headlines after last year’s federal budget, describing the government’s refusal to reindex Medicare rebates as a “crushing blow” for general practice.
The remark was seen as a break with the more diplomatic style of current AMA leader Dr Michael Gannon and the RACGP’s President, Dr Bastian Seidel, both of whom had signed pre-Budget compacts with Health Minister Greg Hunt.
In an interview with The Medical Republic, Dr Frankum said he was disappointed with the lack of reform and momentum in health in the past few years.
“I feel if we don’t have some broader vision for health going into the next election and beyond there are going to be some fairly negative consequences,” he said.
Dr Frankum said a shrinkage in the AMA’s GP membership reflected disillusion with the organisation’s record on defending general practice.
“Numbers have dropped, and that is of great concern to me, that we have not been doing a good job of representing the interests of general practice.
“This is very clearly a consequence of the failure of the federal government to support general practice, in terms of Medicare rebates being adequate, but also in terms of reforming the system and a more modern approach.
“On Health Care Homes, for example, I think the federal government has been very lukewarm in its support.
“I was very unhappy with the government’s failure to fully re-index Medicare in the last budget, to delay it. I think we have lost GP membership because of that, and I plan to get that back. “
Dr Frankum said he would press for better integration between primary care, specialist services and the hospital system – a role he has explored as chair of the clinical council at South West Sydney Primary Health Network.
“I want to really have that visionary look at general practice leading up to the next federal election and hope we can have undertakings from both sides of politics about how we are going to fix this. “
As NSW president, Dr Frankum has been outspoken on issues such as marriage equality, doctors’ mental health and the direction of private health insurance.
“I can be trusted not to shy away from issues even if they’re a bit difficult or uncomfortable,” he said.
“I’ve had a very good relationship with the NSW state government. They get praised for doing things well, they expect to be criticised for things that don’t go so well. We do that without fear or favour. I believe our members appreciate that.”
In general practice and in hospitals, governments should seek to reward quality of care rather than activity, Dr Frankum said.
“My concern is that complacency in any shape or form with public hospitals and funding is going to result in a drop-off in standards of care. I don’t think the federal government is taking it seriously enough; I think our state government is,” he said.
“We need to hammer it home that to maintain the quality of care we have in this country, we need some vision.”
In public health, he wants to see a comprehensive national strategy to tackle obesity. “It needs to go beyond ‘will we or won’t we have a sugar tax’,” he said. “I think it’s the number one public health issue, and I’m not satisfied with the approach of the major parties on this issue at this stage.”
Running for the vice-presidency, Dr Tomlinson, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and AMA Victoria board member, said she looked forward to advocating for doctors in digital health systems.
“I have a good understanding of digital health and social media. I think that puts me in a good position to advocate strongly to government and also to engage with members about their concerns,” she said.
Well known as a champion for women in medicine, Dr Tomlinson was a key figure in a Royal College of Surgeons committee that pressed for cultural change in the speciality well before the college turned to an external independent inquiry to help identify and combat bullying and harassment in surgery.
She also has the distinction of being one of the few specialists who regularly uploads data to the My Health Record system.
“The Australian Digital Health Agency has advised me that I am one of only two. It is not something specialists are doing,” she said.
“I have suggestions for improvement and an understanding of what the limitations and barriers are for doctors.
“Also, the government is looking at secondary use of the data. I think there is a lot of understandable privacy concerns around that.
“We don’t have the information yet on what that will look like.”