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GPs’ meeting with Federal MPs inspired by late RACGP President


Matt Woodley


21/04/2021 3:55:33 PM

Dr Bernard Shiu has revealed how a conversation with Dr Harry Nespolon motivated him to ‘get involved’ in advocacy.

MPs Libby Coker and Mark Butler with GPs
L–R: Federal member for Corangamite Libby Coker and Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler with GPs Cameron Loy, Michael Axton and Bernard Shiu. (Supplied)

A group of Victorian GPs last week met with Federal Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler about ongoing concerns related to aspects of the COVID vaccination rollout.
 
The meeting allowed the GPs involved to communicate issues from the coalface directly to those in Parliament. But according to RACGP Victoria Co-Deputy Chair Dr Bernard Shiu, it might not have happened if it weren’t for a conversation he had with former RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon.
 
‘I have been engaging the local MPs for a few years,’ Dr Shui told newsGP. ‘It was actually our late President Harry’s idea during a chat with him many years ago, before he became the president.
 
‘He encouraged me to start talking to the politicians and get them to listen to us. So I started with one and then two, and now I have regular meetings with many of them.’
 
One of the hallmarks of Dr Nespolon’s presidency was his desire for GPs to ‘get involved’ in advocacy and increase awareness of issues affecting Australian general practice.
 
Dr Shiu says he has formed a particularly strong working relationship with his local member, Libby Coker, which has allowed him to advocate for GPs directly to those who are in a position to influence the politics of medicine in Australia.
 
‘Libby has given me many opportunities to speak to her about issues as early as the [co-claiming Medicare Benefits Schedule item numbers] 23 and 2713 issue and ECG [electrocardiogram] billing, and of course during the pandemic, she was fighting hard for us on issues related to personal protective equipment [PPE] at residential aged care facilities [RACFs], etcetera.’

It was this relationship that allowed Dr Shiu and a number of other local GPs – including former RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Cameron Loy – to attend the hour-long roundtable meeting with Shadow Minister Butler and Ms Coker, where they raised a number of ongoing problems GPs are experiencing.
 
‘Our voices need to be heard by politicians, who then hopefully will bring the messages regarding the confusion and frustration GPs are experiencing during the vaccine rollout to the decision-makers,’ he said.
 
‘A better communication platform has been suggested [and] Mark [Butler] actually proposed to meet at least quarterly; we are just waiting for his office’s confirmation.’
 
Issues discussed at the meeting included funding to match the complexity of vaccinations, GP–Government communication, patients’ preference to be vaccinated by their GP, and the pace of the vaccine rollout in aged care.
 
The messages were reportedly well received by Shadow Minister Butler and Ms Coker, who said they plan to raise them in Parliament.
 
‘We are hoping to develop a good relationship with the opposition leaders and cultivate a mutually respective relationship to advocate for a more fair and sustainable general practice for the future,’ Dr Shiu said.
 
‘We would like to offer a grassroots voice to them so that they can feel the struggles that frontline GPs are going through.’
 
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Dr Gerard Patrick Ingham   22/04/2021 5:58:09 PM

Thanks for your advocacy Bernard (and Cameron and Michael). I expect politicians are as keen to meet with us as we are with them. Good things can happen when respectful relationships develop.