28 May 2021
During May we have continued to see major developments in key community issues including the introduction of Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation to the Queensland Parliament, the call for more funding for palliative care and continued changes to the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. Our report outlines some of the key activities delivered for our members in May.
We launched our $1.65 billion budget submission this week to coincide with Palliative Care Week. A highlight of our submission is the call for $275 million per year for better funding of palliative care services in Queensland. Other priorities for patients include:
- fixing emergency health care and addressing access block ($1 billion);
- fixing health in rural and remote communities ($6.25 million);
- improving maternity and surgical services for Indigenous people ($50.9 million); and
- boosting specialist care for regional maternity patients ($4.05 million).
The priorities for doctors include:
- better digital health care technologies ($313 million);
- establishing new training in addiction medicine ($2.32 million); and
- improving mental health and workplace safety ($1.97 million).
We will closely review the Queensland Budget when it is handed down on 15 June and continue to advocate for better outcomes for the medical professional and the Queensland community.
Read our media release and full Budget Submission here.
Voluntary Assisted Dying
The Queensland Law Reform Commission has delivered the draft VAD legislation to the State Government and stakeholders. This week, the Premier tabled it in Parliament and it has now been referred to the health committee for 12 weeks of consultation before the conscience vote in September.
The legislation predominantly reflects our submission and member views. It provides the ability for doctors to conscientiously object but also information and choice to patients through the proposed care navigator. Good protections are also in place for the vulnerable in our community as well as clear guidelines on eligibility and assessments. Potential applicants for VAD would be assessed by two independent doctors, must be18 years and over, have a 12 months’ prognosis, and experience intolerable suffering.
The draft law allows doctors to initiate a conversation on VAD with patients as long as a range of options are also provided which will of course also include palliative care. In our member survey on VAD, 98 per cent of respondents said that palliative care should be offered prior to or at the same time as VAD. Right now, specialist palliative care in Queensland is only available to those with three months to live which is a major gap in patient choice if VAD is passed. This must be rectified so patients have true choice of palliative care and VAD as options at the same time if they are facing such hard decisions at the end of life.
Another key issue will be the use of telehealth. In our survey, 61 per cent of respondents said that telehealth should be available for a VAD discussion. However, it is currently illegal to do so under federal legislation. Telehealth is now widely used by patients and doctors and while it does not replace face-to-face consults, it does allow patients equitable and accessible options to speak with a doctor about end of life choices. This will require lobbying of the Federal Government to change the relevant laws and allow all Queenslanders equitable access to advice and information on VAD, should it pass in Queensland.
We will be providing a submission on the draft legislation and participate in public hearings where we will continue to ensure our member views are reflected in the legislation.
Our 2021 elections are completed and the results were announced at the Annual General Meeting on 21 May. The positions of President and Vice President were retained by Professor Chris Perry and Dr Bav Manoharan and we welcome back Dr Sarah Coll from Cairns as a Member Appointed Director. Dr Maria Boulton from Brisbane also joins the Board as a new Member Appointed Director. Those elected to Council include:
- Drs Erica Gannon and Sarah Coll (Specialist Craft Group)
- Drs Nick Yim and Fiona Raciti (GP Craft Group)
- Dr Emilia Dauway (International Medical Graduate)
- Dr Sanjeev Bandi (Capricornia)
- Dr Benjamin Wakefield (Downs and West)
- Dr David Shepherd (Far North)
- Drs Kimberley Bondeson, Maria Boulton Siyaguna Kosgamage Ekanayake (Dilum) (Greater Brisbane)
- Dr Siva Senthuran (Full-time Salaried Medical Practitioner)
- Dr Andrew Cronin (Part-Time Medical Practitioner)
- Shiven Singh (Medical Student)
We thank all nominees for their desire to join the leadership of AMA Queensland and encourage all members to consider leadership opportunities in the organisation as they arise. We also thank everyone who voted in the election. Our strength is our members and a leadership team that best represents members is vital to our collective success. We look forward to continuing our strong track record of leading Queensland doctors and creating better health for our community. Read more about our Board and Council.
Ministerial and Government Advocacy
We continue to meet with the Minister for Health and Ambulance Services, Yvette D’Ath MP, on a regular basis. At our meeting in May, we discussed inequities between GP and non-GP specialists’ rules and called on the Minister to support our advocacy to the Federal Government for greater consistency.
Variances in rules for charges and gap payments in telehealth was discussed as well as the need for a permanent Medicare item for telehealth as promised by the Federal Government rather than the current extension until the end of the year.
We obtained the Minister’s support for the emergency department roundtable we are convening and will be delivering expert advice on ways to tackle this crisis.
The Minister also acknowledged the key role GPs are playing in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out and made a commitment to push any excess vaccines through to the Primary Health Networks.
We will continue to foster a constructive relationship with the Government and Opposition in order to advance the interests of the medical profession and community in Queensland.
We continue to deliver proactive and reactive media engagement in order to represent Queensland doctors and create better health outcomes for our community. COVID vaccine hesitancy has been a key topic this month in addition to the start of 2a vaccinations for the over 50s. The rare blood clot risks associated with AstraZeneca has created community concern and we have endeavoured in our media engagement to provide reassurance to the public and context so people can understand the risk compared to the benefits. Our message is to see a GP who can provide individual advice on your personal health needs. Read our media release GPs best placed to manage vaccine hesitancy.
GPs shortages throughout Queensland has also been highlighted in May and we have been vocal on the need to increase the Medicare rebate, consistency in training and accreditation as well as greater investment in the delivery of primary care in our community. The dramatic increase in mental health patients has also placed tremendous pressure on GPs. They are continuing to care for patients who are experiencing lengthy delays before seeing other specialists.
We also celebrated World Family Doctor Day and profiled the inspiring story of Dr Maria Boulton. Dr Boulton is a tremendous role model and advocate for GPs as well as her patients and explains the powerful relationships and strong connections that GPs build with their patients. Read our media release Family GPs the panacea to COVID mental health concerns
The launch of our budget submission was a joint press conference with Palliative Care Queensland (PCQ) at Karuna Hospice and was timed to ensure greater funding for palliative care was front and centre before the introduction of VAD to Parliament. We thank Shyla Mills, CEO of PCQ for her collaboration and expertise as well as Loody Stewart, the mother of a palliative care patient for sharing her personal story.
Our advocacy and strong media statements on Emergency Department ramping secured a $100 million funding commitment from the Queensland Government. While this is a drop in the ocean of what is needed it is a strong step in the right direction. We will convene an expert roundtable shortly to develop a five-year ED action plan to advise government on the way out of the crisis. The expert panel will provide advice on more funding where it is needed as well as innovative and effective models of care. Read our media release Doctors plan roadmap out of ramping.
COVID-19 Vaccination Program
New EOIs process for GPs
The Australian Government is seeking to expand the coverage of primary care sites offering the AstraZeneca vaccine by onboarding up to 900 additional general practices in identified areas of need. This includes practices that may provide access for vulnerable population groups such as culturally and linguistically diverse and/or homeless populations.
All general practices, not currently participating in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, are invited to apply through this expression of interest (EOI) process that is open now and closes at midday AEST on Monday 31 May 2021. Selected practices will be allocated a baseline of 300 doses of AstraZeneca per fortnight and will be on boarded over two weeks from mid-June.
While this is another step forward in the COVID-19 vaccine program, AMA Queensland will continue to advocate for all GPs to be able to administer COVID-19 vaccines in the same way that GPs deliver any other vaccine in our community. Register for the EOI.
Changes to Pfizer storage
This week the Therapeutic Goods Administration has updated their advice on the storage of the Pfizer vaccine stating it can now be stored in a standard fridge for up to a month. This opens the door for GPs to now also administer Pfizer in addition to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Some GP respiratory clinics have been given Pfizer vaccines in Queensland and we’re asking the Queensland Government to also do this for GPs. The Queensland Health Minister made a commitment to release any excess COVID-19 vaccines to Primary Health Networks who can in turn provide these to GPs. We will continue to hold the Minister to account and ensure and this promise is honoured.
GPs are ready to help with the 40-49 age group and we hope the state and federal governments will move quickly to bring forward the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine program and let GPs help deliver more vaccines.
Registering to be vaccinated
People aged 40-49 can now register for the COVID-19 vaccine at a Queensland Health vaccination location. It is good to see many Queenslanders in this age group registering their interest to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine but it is also causing some confusion in the community in terms of eligibility.
We understand that Queensland Health are continuing to prioritise those in 1a and 1b if there are people that have moved into those categories through new employment or changed circumstances. However, a large number of people in the 40-49 age bracket are being called up to receive their Pfizer vaccine or are being booked in for a vaccination.
While we are delighted to see more people being vaccinated and that no vaccines are going to waste, we are calling on greater clarity for vaccine eligibility. If we can bring forward those in the 40-49 age bracket and better harness the GP network, then we can dramatically increase the pace of the vaccine roll-out.
GPs are ready and willing to help speed up the vaccine roll-out and we are urging the State and Federal Governments to also use GPs in this next phase of the roll-out.
This week the Australian Government announced 25 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had been secured to further diversify our vaccine portfolio and provide access to a booster or variant vaccine if needed. The agreement includes 10 million doses in 2021 and 15 million doses of Moderna’s updated variant booster vaccine in 2022. In addition, local manufacturing capability for Moderna is also being pursued by the Government. This vaccine has shown an overall efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 of 94.1 per cent, and 100 per cent efficacy against severe COVID-19. It has also shown strong protection of 90 per cent efficacy against COVID-19 for at least six months after the second dose.
We will continue to ensure GPs and our community have appropriate access to this vaccine once it is approved to ensure we achieve the fastest and safest vaccination roll-out as possible.
Queensland Doctors’ Community
Member-led conversations continue to thrive on our Queensland Doctors’ Community platform. We encourage all members to continue to initiate and join discussions that are important to them. It provides the ideal platform to understand member views and concerns and allows us to ensure our efforts are addressing member needs.
Published: 28 May 2021