26 Oct 2017

RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel’s GP17 opening plenary speech

26/10/2017 12:00:00 AM

Ladies and gentlemen, each year numerous stakeholders and partners of the RACGP collaborate with us in support of the annual conference. An event of this calibre would not be possible without their support, and I would like to offer my sincere thanks on behalf of the RACGP to the sponsor organisations appearing on the screen now.

RACGP President, Dr Bastian Seidel
RACGP President, Dr Bastian Seidel

I am thrilled today to launch the fifth edition of the Standards for general practices.
The Standards are one of the pillars of safety and quality in the Australian healthcare system and are used by more than 80% of Australian general practices for accreditation.
With the Standards, our ultimate aim is to protect our patients from harm, by supporting general practices to identify and address gaps in their systems and processes.
The RACGP conducted an extensive consultation process in order to produce a set of standards that are truly useful in general practice today and will continue to be valuable and relevant for many years.
You will find that the fifth edition of the Standards are far more patient-centred and outcome-focused than previous editions. As we know, every general practice is unique, and the Standards have been written to reflect this.
Other countries are now using our Standards as a guide when developing their own standards for general practice, and I am exceptionally proud that our profession has taken ownership of this space for many years by developing Standards that meet international best practice benchmarks for safety and quality in healthcare.
The RACGP has come a long way since its foundation almost 60 years ago.
As an academic medical college we set the standards for the medical specialty of general practice. We write the curriculum, provide education and hold postgraduate exams, ultimately leading to the Fellowship of the College.
And clearly Fellowship of the RACGP is the premier qualification of excellence and distinction within the medical specialty of general practice. Its national and international recognition is second to none, and rightly our fellows are using their post-nominals with dignity and pride.
Yesterday, at the academic session, you should have seen the smiles of over 200 New Fellows who received their fellowship diploma. They were nervous, excited. But I could feel how proud our new fellows were when they stood next to me for their ceremonial photo with their new diploma.
But the RACGP is doing so much more than setting standards and offering education.
When I’m being asked by our non-GP specialist colleagues what the RACGP actually does, the answer is not a simple one. Because we do a lot. Our strong foundations are built on four pillars: GP education, GP training, GP research and increasingly GP advocacy.
Why have we become so heavily involved in advocating for our profession? The answer to that is an easy one – because nobody is doing it for us. That’s why RACGP Council under president Liz Marles decided to consider an advocacy campaign, that’s why this campaign was implemented under president Frank Jones and that’s why we continue to advocate on the virtue of general practice under my presidency.
Some people say, we shouldn’t. Some say we should focus on education and training, and let others represent general practice. But we’ve tried this in the past. And it did not work. GPs were sold out over and over again. And we as a profession, did not even realise it. Were we naïve, gullible? Or did we trust the wrong people. It’s difficult to say in hindsight. But we won’t let history repeat itself, we learn from our history. After all that is what an evidence-based academic medical college does.
Last year at GP16 I said that effective advocacy is not just running TV campaign after TV campaign. I argued that the RACGP needed a robust presence in our nation’s capital in Canberra. I argued that if we wanted to shape health policy, we needed to be much closer to our political decision makers. And we have achieved that within 12 months. Some of course say we are now too close to politicians, but I guess sometimes it’s hard to get it right for all.
Still, when it comes to health policy our focus is to offer genuine solutions that improve funding and the integrity of general practice. As an academic medical college we explain facts and don’t agitate with poorly founded predictions. Explaining facts, offering solutions? It would be much easier to complain and agitate from a safe distance. But we on Council were not elected to make the easy calls. And we don’t have time for populism and cheap shots. There is no virtue in complaining. There is in contributing.
We are not an industrial lobby group. Pursuing self-interest on the back of members does not pass the sniff test in 2017. We are also not chasing headlines.
But if we really want to have impact, if we want to be taken seriously, we need to advocate stronger for our patients and our communities.
We are calling ourselves specialists in life and that actually does resonate with the community.
But the community is now asking the RACGP to advocate on matters that make a lot of members uncomfortable. Can we just opt out? Advocate only when it suits us? How credible would that be?
Again, we do not wish to agitate. We do not wish to divide or inflame. We advocate by explaining facts. Not by presenting biased personal opinions. Our advocacy is evidence-based, it’s not based on what we like and what we don’t like. So when we contribute to the public discourse on marriage equality, end of life choices, termination of pregnancies, healthcare in offshore detention centres and health effects of climate change, sitting on the fence is no longer what our members want or what the community would tolerate.
Advocacy is biased. It does not claim to stay neutral. It is not about mediating, facilitating or negotiating. There is no middle ground. If we are advocating for, then we will be advocating against as well. It’s not confrontational, it’s not personal. But it might be uncomfortable. However, our advocacy will always be evidence-based.
The community has a right to know where the RACGP stands. And for that, we need to have positions. There cannot be much wiggle room.
At yesterday’s academic session, I advised our new fellows, the future of our profession, to trust themselves. To rely on their inner compass. I advised them to stay confident and to have courage to make the difficult decisions. I also urge our College to confidently argue a case on issues that may make us all uncomfortable as individual human beings. For that, our College must rely on its biggest asset: our 35,000 members.
We are the largest medical organisation in Australia and I’m proud and humbled that I am allowed to represent our fabulous members. We have an incredible diverse membership based on background, demographics, desires, careers, thinking styles and I could go on and on. We need to celebrate diversity, because diversity is an incubator for creativity and high performance. So yes, as an organisation we should foster diversity, but we can’t tolerate being divisive. 
We need to focus on what we share, what we have in common and what is dear to all of us. We need to focus on what we identify with as members of our college. We need to move away from exploiting what sets us apart. We need to stay united. We need to stay authentic and credible. And we all need to demonstrate solidarity.
The RACGP is not perfect, far from it. But if we give in to the temptation to complain we should also feel inspired to contribute. 
We are a very successful member-based organisation, but if we want to take the College to the next level we need to focus much more on our members. We need to focus on trying to uncover the non-obvious needs our members have. We need to ask what it is that would make our members’ professional life better. What would our members actually value if the RACGP was able to provide it?
Those are the big and challenging questions that need to be answered, and they need to be answered soon.
So let’s advance this dialogue. Let’s progress it here, in Sydney. Let’s make it meaningful. We all are the RACGP, something we should be immensely proud of. So let’s celebrate our profession, our college and our members over the next three days here at #GP17.
Thank you.

GP17 RACGP Sydney

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