- On May 6, 2020
- May / June 2020
If not now, when?
COVID-19 has presented us with a challenge, but also an opportunity to shape and evolve the health system.
AS I COME to the end of two years as President of AMA (NSW), it is fitting to reflect on what has happened and what has changed. Presidents come and go but the strength of the organisation lies in its staff, led by their CEO, Fiona Davies, who has been a stalwart champion of the organisation and the doctors we represent. The events of the last two years have changed and will continue to change the way we work and test our ability to adapt. I have to thank our members, our Council and our organisation for the opportunity to serve in this role through this period of time.
Fittingly for this organisation, the words of Hillel the Elder opened our first strategic planning meeting in 2018 – “If I am not for myself, then who is for me? But if I am for myself alone, then what am I. And if not now, when?”
Not only does the AMA represent doctors at all levels of their careers, it advocates on behalf of the health of the patients we serve. While the Association has continued to support members in their practices and improve working conditions in hospitals, it has also been very active in public health advocacy. We championed abortion law reform, obesity programs, domestic violence awareness, gender equity, stricter alcohol measures, climate change, regional and rural health reforms, Indigenous health, and much more. The Association has responded to many reviews on issues, including but not limited to: My Health Record, Workcover, primary care, workforce and training, bushfires, the drug ‘ice’, paediatrics, the Northern Beaches Hospital, mandatory testing, cosmetic surgery, mental health, and the list goes on.
We are constantly working to respond to an evolving health system – and one that has been under growing strain.
We are witnessing quarter on quarter records in emergency department attendances and hospital utilisation, along with longer waiting times for elective surgery. At the general practice level, there remains the ongoing underfunding of primary care, which threatens its capacity to provide quality, comprehensive and coordinated care. Lack of funding also hinders its ability to provide continuity of care, which remains one of the major factors in improved health outcomes. Events such as the bushfires at the end of 2019 increased the strain on many parts of the system, which was further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. These crises reveal cracks in the system.
All membership organisations face the challenge of who they are. There are organisations which represent their limited membership ably but fail to lead in the world of health. Credibility comes from being more than just a membership organisation and this is the challenge facing us. The increasing strains of the health system and the challenge of responding to the coronavirus pandemic will change the way we do things. As doctors and as an organisation we are well placed to play a leading role in shaping the healthcare system of the future – should we choose to do so.