President and CEO update August 2021

6 Sep 2021

President Prof Chris Perry and CEO Dr Brett Dale


Professor Chris Perry OAM, AMA Queensland President and Dr Brett Dale, CEO

August began with a short, sharp lockdown, the fourth for Queensland this year. It was effective, but highlighted the havoc that COVID-19 outbreaks can wreak on the health system, with about 400 doctors and other health care workers forced to quarantine for weeks, and others stranded by Queensland’s hard border closure.

Vaccination rates are improving as supply increases, particularly of the Pfizer vaccine, but our hospitals are already at capacity and it is not clear when we will be able to open up fully while New South Wales continues to record in excess of 1,000 new cases a day.

In August, we advocated strongly for health care workers in our border communities, surveyed our members about mandatory vaccination, raised concerns about the potential impact of the Wellcamp quarantine centre on the regional workforce, had a significant win for Visiting Medical Officers (VMOs), held an Extraordinary General Meeting, and secured a no-fault indemnity scheme for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Indooroopilly cluster

We remain concerned about the worrying resurgence of COVID-19 in the community, with the highly contagious Delta strain sending five capital cities and all of New South Wales into lockdown. The lockdown in South East Queensland, Cairns and Yarrabah appears to have contained the virus, but not before forcing about 400 doctors into home quarantine for weeks as close contacts of Indooroopilly cluster cases.

These Lockdown Legends, and every Queenslander who obeyed the health directions and stayed home, were instrumental in Queensland avoiding the soaring numbers experienced in New South Wales and, to a lesser extent, Victoria and the ACT. Dr Kim Hansen, the chair of AMA Queensland’s Ramping Roundtable, was the public face of the quarantining doctors, appearing on radio and television throughout the lockdown.

Border closures
AMA Queensland is also concerned about the impact of hard border closures on communities where a 20-minute commute has turned into hours for health care workers and patients with permission to travel between Coolangatta and Tweed Heads, or where people cannot cross the border at all by road from rural communities to seek medical treatment in Birdsville. We support calls for border bubbles to make it easier for doctors, nurses and allied health workers to do their jobs, and for patients to receive care.

We have written twice to the Queensland Government urging changes to the border checkpoints and the narrow definition of essential. We have asked for the border checkpoint to be moved further south and for all medical support workers, including orderlies, cleaners, cooks and receptionists, to be reclassified as essential workers

Wellcamp quarantine centre
While AMA Queensland has long called for purpose-built quarantine centres for returning travellers to overcome the shortcomings of hotel quarantine, we have concerns about the stand-alone facility being built just outside Toowoomba at the Wellcamp site.

We are concerned that the local medical workforce has not been consulted about the potential impact on existing services and the local community of a 1,000-bed centre just a few kilometres from Toowoomba Hospital. We are also concerned about the potential for this new facility to strip the regional workforce by attracting locums and other health care workers who would otherwise be taking up regional placements in areas where they are desperately need. The proposal to airlift all COVID cases to Brisbane hospitals adds a new layer of risk to the health workforce. These questions are yet to be addressed by the Queensland Government.

Mandatory vaccinations for all health care workers
Thanks to the more than 400 members who responded to our survey on mandatory vaccinations for health care workers. You overwhelmingly support the need for all workers in the health care system to be vaccinated, with almost 90 per cent agreeing and 80 per cent expressing concerns about working alongside unvaccinated workers.

Pleasingly, 97 per cent of respondents have had at least one COVID-19 vaccination, and only 10 respondents said that they did not intend to get the jab.

AMA Queensland and ASMOFQ have supported the federal AMA call for national action to mandate vaccination for all health care workers, beginning in hospitals and then extending to the wider health system.

Public health orders are a government responsibility and it should not be left up to individual employers to bear the responsibility for requiring their workers to be vaccinated. Read our statement on mandatory vaccinations for all health care workers.

Indemnity for COVID-19 vaccinations
Following strong advocacy from all AMAs, the Federal Government has announced a no-fault indemnity scheme for COVID-19 vaccinations.

AMA Queensland was a key voice on this issue maintaining pressure with all stakeholders and the media to ensure an appropriate resolution was achieved.

The new scheme ensures that health care workers involved in the vaccine rollout are not put through distressing court processes for simply playing their role in administering lifesaving vaccines as part of Australia’s pandemic response.

No-fault vaccine compensation schemes are used around the world, recognising the community benefit of high rates of vaccination and the need for the community to look after the very small number of people who experience serious side effects.

Under the scheme, injured patients can apply to Services Australia for Commonwealth-funded compensation. An expert panel will assess the veracity of claims and determine common law equivalent compensation settlements funded by the Commonwealth.

The scheme follows months of work by the AMA with the Government, medical defence organisations and the business sector. Read the AMA media statement.

New vaccine guidelines for children
ATAGI has updated its vaccination advice for children aged between 12 to 15 years old. From 13 September, all children in this age group will be able to register to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. This is welcome news, however, demand for Pfizer continues to far outstrip demand, particularly given the urgency of the New South Wales outbreak, and we are urgently lobbying for more vaccines. 

Resident Hospital Health Check
The Resident Hospital Health Check survey of doctors in training is open throughout September. This anonymous survey covers areas such as access to professional development leave, whether paid overtime is easy to access, and the general culture of the hospital or health facility.

The data will be analysed by a statistician and released in the last quarter of this year to give doctors in training important information as they consider their next placement. We encourage all doctors in training to take part in this survey.

COVID-19 has taken its toll on many people’s mental wellbeing, and the Council of Doctors in Training (CDT) has come up with a month of ways to take care of ourselves and each other with Self-Care September, from cat videos to cooking classes. There are great prizes to be won each week just by joining the conversation on Facebook or Instagram. A big thanks to our prize sponsor Doctors’ Health Fund for their generosity in supporting this new initiative. Congratulations to CDT Co-Chair Dr Natasha Abeysekera for her passion and enthusiasm in driving this campaign. 

Win for VMOs
For the first time in history, VMOs are able to access the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) to resolve workplace disputes. This is a major win for VMOs negotiated by the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation Queensland (ASMOFQ) and the AMA Queensland Visiting Medical Officers’ Committee.

Queensland Health currently employs VMOs on standardised, individual contracts that can cause issues for members when workplace disputes or grievances arise. Until now, VMOs have been unable to access the QIRC to resolve industrial disputes, unlike their Senior Medical Officer colleagues.

Queensland Health has issued a Health Employment Directive to add this entitlement to VMOs. While VMOs are still able to use the existing dispute resolution procedure (e.g. using a private mediator to resolve disputes), ASMOFQ expects that many VMOs will benefit from using the more efficient and effective process of resolving disputes via the QIRC.

Negotiations to secure this entitlement for VMOs have occurred over the last 12 months, and are part of a major campaign to protect and enhance the working rights of VMOs.

Dinner for the Profession
Three health care heroes were recognised at AMA Queensland’s annual black-tie event, Dinner for the Profession, in Brisbane on 20 August. 

Brisbane physician Dr Ellen Burkett has been awarded the prestigious AMA Queensland Gold Medal, for outstanding service to the community and the practice of medicine. Dr Burkett is a senior emergency staff specialist at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital and clinical lead of residential aged care facility acute care support services (RaSS) with Clinical Excellence Queensland, which aims to improve the quality and safety of medical care for aged care residents.

Emerald GP Dr Ewen McPhee was presented with the AMA Queensland Rural Health Medal in appreciation of more than three decades’ exceptional service to rural and remote communities.

Townsville social services champion Mrs Dushy Thangiah has been awarded the AMA Queensland Excellence in Health Care Medal for her outstanding work in the housing and homelessness sector. Watch the highlights video of the night. 

AMA Queensland is lobbying for a 12-month grace period for penalties for non-compliance in using QScript, Queensland’s read-only, real-time prescription monitoring system.

QScript alerts and notifies health practitioners to review a patient’s monitored medicine prescription history at the point of care, and came into operation on 1 September.

Penalties for non-compliance in using QScript were planned to start on 1 October, however we are continuing to advocate for a 12-month grace period to allow practitioners time to adapt to this new system.

We will continue to advocate for this change on behalf of members and all medical professionals and keep you updated on progress.

The AMA Queensland Foundation is working with Beddown to support the charity’s work with the homeless. Beddown turns spaces that are commonly busy during the day but vacant at night into pop-up accommodation for the homeless.

We are calling for help from members to assist in developing a tackling addictions program to help the guests of Beddown build a better life.

Specialists in the fields of drug and alcohol addictions therapies, counsellors, psychiatrists and other doctors are all welcome to make contact and assist with this worthy program. For more information or to register an expression of interest please email or contact the Foundation Coordinators on 07 3872 2222.

Government advocacy
This month we met with the senior leadership team at Queensland Health to advocate for our members and the community on the following issues.

  • Changes to mandatory reporting of mental health issues for doctors as they currently deter medical practitioners from seeking help and exacerbates the issues faced by doctors who are already at high risk.
  • The ongoing health problems caused by task substitution where patients are not seeing specialists to address their medical needs. 
  • The need for greater funding palliative care to give Queenslanders true end-of-life choices.
  • Major gaps in maternity services for rural communities.
  • The impact a properly funded and supported, community-led Indigenous surgical access program could have on closing the gap for the health of our First Nations people.

Our advocacy on mandatory reporting also extended to the Queensland Medical Board Authority and AHPRA and we will continue to lobby for members’ health and wellbeing at work.

We are also a leader in the climate change conversation and action with progress made his month on the Climate Ready Initiative and we will continue to provide updates as this program comes together.

Drug Law Reform is another key issue where we are leading the agenda and are convening a series of stakeholder meetings to consider ways to reduce harm, refocus efforts on rehabilitation and reduce the burden on the justice system where there is little long-term positive outcomes for the community.

We were a key voice at the table with the GP Alliance Meeting advocating for greater emphasis, recognition and remuneration for GPs commensurate with the vital role they play in delivery primary care for our community. We led the QScript advocacy on behalf of the Alliance and have been advised that we successfully obtained support for a 12 month penalty moratorium. 

August also saw us meet with the Deputy Premier and Health Minister to finalise our feedback on the Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation that will soon be before parliament as a conscience vote.

Extraordinary General Meeting
AMA Queensland has a new name following an Extraordinary General Meeting on Friday 27 August 2021.

Members voted unanimously to change the name of the company from The Queensland Branch of Australian Medical Association Limited to Australian Medical Association Queensland Limited.

The meeting also approved and adopted the amended Constitution reflecting the name change.

The change came into effect immediately after the meeting closed. Read the new constitution and explanatory statement.

Around the State
The AMA Queensland Junior Doctor Conference was held at James Cook University, Townsville, on 28-29 August, with the state’s best and brightest doctors in training coming together to discuss the trials of starting out in medicine in the midst of a pandemic.

Conference speakers included the 2021 Queensland Australian of the Year, Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM, who delivered Sunday’s keynote address. Dr Palipana focused on the social responsibility of doctors to shape, support and speak about global social issues such as climate change, modern slavery and human rights. 

A big thanks to all our speakers including Board members Drs Sarah Coll and David Shepherd, Council members Drs Siva Senthuran and Maddison Taylor and Council of Doctors in Training Co-Chairs Drs Natasha Abeysekera and Rob Nayer.

L to R: Audience at JDC; panel session featuring Dr Sarah Coll, Prof Tarun Sen Gupta, Drs Maddison Taylor and Rob Nayer; Dr Sarah Coll and General Manager Katherine Gonzalez-Cork at the JDC Social.

Published: 6 Sep 2021