Political advertisements by (our eminent, and once-impartial and esteemed) GP college – the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners – have doctors in revolt.
The Conservative Party is suspicious of lobbying organisations, which can get away with making any amount of unchallenged claims or pushing dubious propaganda during the election campaign because they are not officially considered part of the political party process.
The Australian reports, Doctors have criticised the college of GPs for running politically charged election ads depicting people unable to afford medical care and comparing Australia’s healthcare system with that of the US.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has a unique role in the health system as both the professional standards body and lobby group.
Half of its 40,000 members are fellows of the college.
But the college’s increasingly political advocacy has seen it being compared with the Australian Medical Association — and not all members are comfortable with that.
Having run ads in 2016 warning that patients would pay more to see a doctor, the RACGP is now running ads warning patients cannot afford to see a doctor. The Medicare freeze might be ending but the RACGP wants $1 billion put back into the system to “maintain universal healthcare”.
James Cook University’s associate professor Sophia Couzos, a GP and member of the RACGP, said the ads were “very misleading” in suggesting Australians could not afford to see a doctor. “The vast majority of Australians facing hardship can afford to see a GP, can find a GP who bulk-bills, can access GP services through an Aboriginal medical service, or access state government-provided health services at no cost,” she said.
Bulk-billing rates have increased since 2013-14 to a record 86 per cent, even as average out-of-pocket costs rose from $30.26 to $36.50. Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys also show the proportion of the population claiming to have put off seeing a GP because of cost declined from 4.9 per cent to 4 per cent over that time.
RACGP president Harry Nespolon, a North Sydney GP, insisted the $1 billion saved through the Medicare freeze must be returned in order to maintain universal access. While the AMA has a similar stance, the RACGP has faced a social media backlash from doctors and patients who argue the ad has gone too far.
One doctor described the ad as a “disgrace”, saying he, like other GPs, chose to bulk-bill about 90 per cent of patients.
The RACGP would not disclose the cost of the ad nor how it was being funded. It had revenue of $75 million last financial year — including $32 million from membership fees and $27 million from education — and reported an after-tax surplus of $413,000.
Aniello Iannuzzi, a GP and fellow of the RACGP, said he initially mistook it for “an AMA or GetUp-style ad”, drawing from Labor’s so-called Mediscare campaign.
“I think it’s grating more GPs because it sounds more like a political ad,” Dr Iannuzzi said, suggesting the RACGP campaign “cheapens” the role of doctors in the community. While Dr Iannuzzi believed Medicare was underfunded and in need of reform, he and some other members of the RACGP believed the college should revert to its role as a professional standards body and leave the lobbying to the AMA.
Associate Professor Couzos also questioned the RACGP’s use of membership revenue for political purposes.
“Doctors have a social contract with Australians to demonstrate their honesty and integrity, and this means the profession must present an honest and professional case to the public on health policy matters,” she said.
“I am disappointed this commitment is not evident through these ads.”
To read The Australian’s article in full, and see the dishonest, cringeworthy ad particularly at issue, click here.
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