WA News News & Reports Taking a Swipe at Pot Shots
Taking a Swipe at Pot Shots
Written by Jan Hallam
Wednesday, 30 March 2016

WA AMA President Michael Gannon has announced his intention to stand for national AMA president at the annual conference in May. He has told media he will focus on mainstream health policy and be less confrontational than Prof Brian Owler over controversial issues such as asylum seeker policy.Gannon-Michael-Dr-cropped Jun15AMA national presidential hopeful Dr Michael Gannon

Dr Gannon told Medical Observer that “if you step into the minefield of asylum seeker policy, you risk alienating the Government.”

“I don’t think you should ever have cheap shots – but you must also be constructive in the criticism, provide workable solutions and work in partnership where appropriate.”

Despite being on the federal executive that was responsible for drafting policy on issues such as asylum seekers and Ebola response, Dr Gannon was reported as saying the attacking stance may have detracted from its effectiveness in other areas such as the primary healthcare review, the private health insurance review and the MBS review.

“Although my colleague Prof Owler was very careful in his recent comments on asylum seeker policy and he was reading from our book of policies, I think obviously there is the risk when you criticise a really complex and clear area of government policy, that you then get a bloodied nose in what is core business,” he said.

The West Australian reported that Dr Gannon was uncomfortable with Prof Owler’s intervention in the asylum seeker debate and “fervent” criticism of the Abbott government’s response to the African Ebola epidemic.

Prof Owler hit back saying his public comments had always reflected AMA policy and been supported by members, while Dr Gannon’s comments in favour of the GP co-payment had not been supported by the wider membership.

Federal vice-president and Victorian emergency doctor Stephen Parnis is also running for the top job.

While the AMA WA President Dr Michael Gannon may feel uneasy about the national AMA’s support of doctors standing firm in the face of government pressure over asylum seekers, a number of WA doctors have told us they were deeply concerned about the welfare of local asylum-seeker children.

children-detention-wireOne doc, who did not want to be named for fear of a backlash, said one of the key issues doctors faced here was the haphazard access these children had to state-funded public schools.

“These families (who do not receive full Centrelink payments and do not always have work rights), need to pay international fees to attend state schools. Thus most are placed within the Catholic education system which is now overstretched. When they are released from Community Detention and move to Bridging Visa Es, families must negotiate with the school regarding fee subsidies or waiving.”

Medical Forum has been told that WA is the only state in Australia that doesn’t allow asylum children access to state schools. We took this up with the WA Education Department who flicked it like a hot spud to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection who responded with: “The Department has funding arrangements in place in all states and territories to ensure children of school age in community detention have access to education.”

It addressed none of our doctor’s concerns nor answered any of the questions we raised.




While communication is one thing, investigation of notifications is another. We believe good doctors want the bad ones weeded out but they don’t want to be part of a witch hunt or get buried in lawyers, politics or paperwork.

The national Medical Board can respond to a complaint or act on the advice of the WA Medical Board to establish an assessment panel to either examine the health or performance and professional standards of a doctor. Health consumers are represented on panels along with medical practitioners.

The Medical Board and AHPRA have undisclosed lists of doctors who are approved by them as panellists and probably as expert witnesses. Many of these people, we believe, were ‘grandfathered’ across when National Law first came in (2010). Their impartiality is as unknown as they are. Then we have expected biases of the legal assessors, chosen by AHPRA, possibly thrown into the mix.

Is there a problem, Houston?

It is important this is sorted to everyone’s satisfaction as 42% of doctors in our survey thought panellists could lack impartiality to a serious extent.

In fact, only one quarter of doctors we surveyed (n=195) were happy with the impartiality shown by AHPRA or the Medical Board in processing a complaint (with 36% unhappy and 39% undecided). Nearly all of those who were unhappy said they were concerned that unfairness will be seriously damaging to someone. Investigation is a very confronting experience.

If someone is being investigated by a panel, either the panel or the person being investigated can opt for a more out-in-the-open State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) judicial hearing – the panel usually refers because it feels the evidence before it constitutes more serious professional misconduct.

What Fair Doctors Want

Talking to doctors, they appear to want an apolitical system of investigation that is fair and timely. They want to be treated reasonably. Unlike the legal profession, their work is mostly built around trust and honesty. They do not want a return to the ‘good old days’ where those with a political bent in the medical profession could influence what the Medical Board did.

While this is a very difficult area for us to investigate, with arguments and counter-arguments at every step, we cannot understand why the Medical Board would turn to arguably the most political organisation, the AMA, for its counsel (the national Board Chair met earlier this year with “senior leaders from AHPRA and representatives of the AMA” to workshop doctor complaints).

Why? Our e-Poll responses raise a question mark over the AMA’s involvement (and we don’t think AMA members have been polled on this issue.)

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