The past 12 months have cemented the RACGP as Australia’s leading academic medical college, and confirmed we are so much more than an organisation that sets standards and conducts exams for the medical specialty of general practice.
The RACGP’s foundations are built on four pillars: general practice education, general practice training, general practice research and, increasingly, general practice advocacy. I have been particularly proud of our organisation’s efforts throughout the past year to advocate not only for GPs, but also for our patients and the broader Australian community. We are no longer just one voice of general practice. We are the voice of general practice.
We no longer react to health policy initiatives written by others. We actively shape health policy. We no longer sit on the fence and wait for decisions to be made for us, we now articulate our positions strongly and publicly.
This was never meant to be an easy path. It would be so much easier for all of us to sit back and complain whenever we feel like it. However, our members expect us to stop complaining and to start contributing to the policy discourse. When we identify a problem, we are also committed to finding a solution. We no longer try to avoid complexity, we embrace and address the issues comprehensively and in timely manner.
This is no different to what we GPs do in our clinical practice. This is no different to what we teach our students and registrars.
While some positions may make members uncomfortable, we cannot take the easy road and opt out of the complex discussions that are relevant to our patients. A pick-and-choose approach will lead to irrelevance of our organisation and subsequently of our profession. That’s why we took a stance on marriage equality and on voluntary assisted dying, and we will continue to contribute to the public discourse on complex and ethical social issues that affect our patients every day.
Of course, advocacy for our profession has also been a major focus for the RACGP over the past 12 months. Now, more than ever before, we are seeing the benefits of our public awareness campaigns and efforts to establish a robust presence in our nation’s capital in Canberra.
I am equally excited about the RACGP’s increasing profile in the minds of Australia’s politicians and other key decision-makers.
The federal government this year sought the RACGP’s expert advice on a number of national healthcare issues, including after-hours Medicare rebates, codeine rescheduling, mandatory reporting, general practice training, flu vaccines and cervical cancer screening.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt made it a priority to speak at our 2017 conference for general practice – GP17 – in Sydney, where he was joined by Shadow Health Minister Catherine King and Greens leader Dr Richard Di Natale.
The RACGP, along with its over 39,000 members, is the voice of the Australian general practice profession. We are now truly the most influential medical organisation in the country. And it’s about time.
And we have continued in our outstanding efforts to forge towards greater public awareness, with the latest phase of our campaign, ‘No one knows you like your GP’, proving another major success. The new campaign emphasises the fact more than two million Australians visit a GP every week, and highlights the special, ongoing relationship GPs are able to establish with their patients.
The RACGP has also maintained its position as the standard-bearer in Australian healthcare training and education.
During his speech at GP17, Minister Hunt made the welcome and exciting announcement that the RACGP, along with our colleagues at the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, will resume delivery of general practice training in Australia, encompassing the Australian General Practice Training program, from January 2022.
Regaining a fully funded GP training program would have been a standout achievement during anybody’s presidency. We did not achieve that by me having selfies taken in Canberra and posting them with a couple of catchy lines on social media. We’ve accomplished that by diligently and progressively working with the government, the Department of Health and our trusted stakeholders over the last 12 months. This is exactly what your Council does, this is what your expert committees and membership groups advise on and that is what our outstanding RACGP staff excel in.
The past year has also seen the publication of several new and updated general practice resources, including the fifth edition of the Standards for general practices, one of the pillars of safety and quality in the Australian healthcare system. We’ve conducted an extensive consultation process in order to produce a new document that is truly useful in modern Australian general practice. The fifth edition Standards are thus far more patient-centred and outcome-focused, and are designed to encourage GPs and their practice teams to set up systems and processes that reflect their own unique needs.
Other new publications include Putting prevention into practice (Green Book), Genomics in general practice and the National guide to a preventive health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this last being a joint initiative with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).
One of our most exciting political initiatives was the RACGP’s landmark General Practice: Health of the Nation 2017 report. The first comprehensive snapshot of general practice in Australia, the report focused on a range of key areas, including patient access, the role of the GP, and the general practice workforce.
Health of the Nation offered a number of fascinating insights into our profession, identifying psychological ailments and obesity as Australia’s biggest health problems, as well as the fact that female GPs are taking a leading role in tackling these issues.
Female GPs are playing an increasingly significant role throughout the general practice profession and the RACGP itself, with 2018 marking the first time in college history that female members outnumbered males. The growing number of women in general practice is also reflected in the RACGP’s leadership positions, with women making up 48% of RACGP expert committees and 41% of its Council membership. Yes, your college has become more diverse. And it’s about time, too.
My term as RACGP President draws to a close. It was never my ambition to leave a legacy. I was fully aware that I’d lead an organisation in transition. It was my aim to leave an organisation that would be more confident, that would be more sure about its privileged role in the Australian healthcare system. The RACGP’s relevance had to become self-evident to our members, to political decision-makers and of course to the Australian public.
The role of the president is not to lead the RACGP, but to be a steward of the organisation and the spokesperson representing the college and our members literally in good times and bad times. You’ve got to be prepared to take a hit, which frankly I did. But I’m still standing, and for that, the RACGP is in a better shape than ever before. I am proud of what we have accomplished together. The future is bright for the profession and the RACGP, but the hard work has just begun.