5 June 2018

Time for GPs to ‘play hardball’ with Canberra

AMA General Practice TheHill

Trailblazing rural GP Dr David Rivett, winner of one of the AMA’s highest awards of 2018, has called for doctors to take a tougher stand to restore viability in general practice.

In one of his final duties as AMA leader, outgoing president Dr Michael Gannon named Dr Rivett winner of the President’s Award at the AMA’s national conference in Canberra on May 26.

The award recognises a person “who, in the eyes of the AMA president, has made an outstanding contribution toward furthering the objectives of the AMA”.

“Dr Rivett sums up the versatility, camaraderie, and good humour that is so essential in rural and remote practice, and he is an outstanding recipient of the President’s Award,” Dr Gannon said.

Speaking later to The Medical Republic, Dr Rivett said doctors’ groups had possibly missed an opportunity at the last federal election by opting to negotiate quietly with government.

“You really need some electoral pressure to get anything out of politicians,” he added.

“I think it’s time for a harder-nosed approach. In future, I’d love to see the AMA get a fighting fund established on behalf of GPs to try to get both (political) parties to index (rebates) fully.”

He said doctors should make it a priority to overturn the Medicare indexation model, which had never kept up with rising costs even without the prolonged rebate freeze.

“When Medicare was instituted, indexation was never fairly done.  It’s been death by a thousand cuts,” Dr Rivett said.

“If you want to have meaningful rebates in the future, the indexation model has to be thrown out.

“I don’t think it’s well communicated to the Australian public that it means patients will be more and more out of pocket.”

Dr Rivett, who practices at Batemans Bay, on the NSW south coast, has led pioneering AMA committees at state and federal levels to advocate for GPs and rural patients.

A veteran of political battles over rural GP education, point-of-care testing and tiered GP item restructuring,  he wryly observed wins were rarer than losses.  But there had been “some good outcomes”.

The AMA’s rural GP committee had brought together groups representing rural GPs – the RACGP, ACRRM, the AMA – to get a joint voice to government, he said.

Dr Rivett welcomed the appointment of Melbourne GP Dr Tony Bartone as Dr Gannon’s successor.

“Tony has been a great contributor to general practice over the years in the AMA Council of General Practice, and I’m sure he’ll do an excellent job,” he said.

The AMA’s highest honour, the AMA Gold Medal, was awarded to Emeritus Professor John Murtagh, author of the pre-eminent textbook on general practice.

Professor Murtagh is best known for his internationally adopted medical textbooks, including John Murtagh’s General Practice, now in its sixth edition.  However, he began his medical career as a procedural GP in country Victoria, and he continues to teach post-retirement.

“Professor Murtagh’s contribution to medicine and general practice as both a doctor and an educator in Australia is incomparable,” Dr Gannon said.

It was “no accident” that the AMA’s two top awards went to two rural GPs, he said.