RACGP members will choose between three candidates in voting for a new president in an online poll that opens on June 22.
Dr Bruce Willett, chair of RACGP Queensland, is standing for the college’s most senior position against Sydney GP Dr Harry Nespolon and Perth GP Dr Jagadish (Jags) Krishnan.
The winner of the preferential vote, to be announced on July 3, will be expected to lead the fight for funding reform in primary care after members have spent years being squeezed by austerity budgets.
The victor will also take on the challenge of steering the takeover of responsibility for GP training in a 90-10 split with ACRRM. Despite the 2019 handover, details of funding and the fate of regional training organisations remain shrouded in uncertainty.
“That is the single biggest piece of work on the horizon, by a country mile,” Dr Willett, a GP supervisor for more than 25 years, told The Medical Republic. “That’s part of the reason I want to be involved. It’s close to my heart.”
The former leader of the GP Supervisors Association said the college would likely perform a function similar to GPET’s, before it was axed in 2014, in managing contracts with the RTOs.
“I think it’s important to strengthen the regionalised training structures,” he said, recalling the “tragedy” of the last shake-up when many providers were wiped out and experienced educators and resources lost.
“I think the college has the ability to make sure that sort of thing doesn’t happen again and there is some ability to share IP (intellectual property) across the network.”
Dr Nespolon said the college could not afford to make mistakes in resuming control, 15 years after the government took its training role away because of poor management.
“It has been an embarrassment – the only college that doesn’t run their own training. Going forward we cannot have a repeat of the Family Medicine Program,” he said.
“My view is that (the training arm) should be run separately with its own board, with representation of registrars, supervisors and GPs on both boards so the training program doesn’t become a tacked-on afterthought to the bureaucratic machine.”
Registrar training had become fraught with change and complexity, he said.
“Every time you turn your head, it changes … It’s really important to have stable GP training so we can attract the best and brightest.”
A former chair of GP Synergy, the country’s largest RTO, Dr Nespolon said he would like to give registrars a system that did not drown them out with “bureaucratic machinery”.
Dr Krishnan said he would refuse to accept any compromise on GP training, saying it was at the core of RACGP values.
An active member of the Australian General Practice Alliance, the practice owners lobby group, he would also extend training in business skills to help GPs prosper and remain independent.
“People who have learnt their lessons the hard way can help those who are interested in ownership but have a fear of doing it – particularly by sharing about what went wrong.”
The UK-trained doctor, who owns or has an interest in 30 practices in the Perth area, also conducts exam prep workshops for rural GPs and is passionate about IMG education.
He would like the WA IMG support group he formed in 2008 to be rolled out nationally.
“The lack of access to materials is the biggest problem,” he said, noting the discrepancy between the resources available through RTOs and the lack of support for IMGs to improve clinical standards and pass exams.
“No-one has put the hard effort into filling that gap,” Dr Krishnan said.
One area where the candidates disagree is the CPD program adopted under current President Dr Bastian Seidel, which has led some members to quit.
Dr Krishnan is for keeping the compulsory “reflective” CPD component known as PLAN, introduced last year. But he thinks the college could do more to help members with data extraction.
Dr Nespolon, on the other hand, could not see the back of PLAN soon enough.
“It has been singularly unsuccessful in terms of its appeal to members; it’s unclear what its objectives are and what its success is,” he told The Medical Republic.
Dr Willett suggests PLAN could be made voluntary. Though, personally, he would continue to do it.
“I think its worthwhile reflecting – and it offers the easiest category one QI points you can get,” he said.
“Having said that, there is a possibility that AHPRA will turn around and make it mandatory. We need to consider that and be honest with our membership about it.”