AMA president Tony Bartone to champion general practice as election nears

Former AMA Victoria president Tony Bartone has been elected president of the national body, promising to fight for better ways of funding general practice and ensuring healthcare is centre stage in the coming federal election.

Dr Bartone, a Melbourne GP, said the election of a GP president would send a powerful message to government, which he said had underfunded general practice for the last decade.

“General practice has been systematically starved of funding, putting at risk its very survival,” Dr Bartone said. “The AMA, under my leadership, has the solutions. A GP president will send a message.

“Our health minister needs to understand the time for rhetoric is over. Our patience is wearing thin. We need to see crucial positive actions now. We will have a federal election in the next year, and I am ready for any early election call.”

He said GPs could do much more to help the entire health system if given the tools, the resources and the appropriate funding. This includes funding for the non face-to-face work that GPs do, and for initiatives such as the My Health Record and telehealth.

He said he was on the record as having called the 55 cent rebate increase this July, after six years in which the rebate was frozen, as “insulting”.

“That is not going to reflect the need of general practice to reverse the targeted cuts and disinvestment over the last decade or so,” he said.

“I said that we need significant targeted funding. I don’t think it’s going to be through rebates only.

“It’s going to look along rewarding our effort for work that’s not face-to-face that occurs daily in our practices. It’s going to look at rewarding effort that is about red tape, that rewards quality, and ensuring that we continue that long-term relationship with our patients.

“It’s going to look like rewarding the time taken to prepare, and structure, and curate a very strong and detailed health record that will become the premise of My Health Record, in terms of that digital strategy that will save lives around the nation.

“It’s going to look at ensuring that we increase access to quality GPs attending aged care facilities, and it’s going to ensure that there are telehealth item numbers across our country to reward non face-to-face contact with our general practice population.”

He said a Medicare rebate for telehealth would be on the agenda for his first meeting with the health minister, and that the AMA's Council of General Practice was already working on a significant, multi-point plan to put to the minister.

“None of those proposals will cost that much in net terms,” he said. “All of those proposals that I’ve just highlighted are going to save lives, are going to save resources, are going to save duplication. That is where the cost benefit analysis ... it’s a zero-sum game if we look at the downstream effects of those costs.”

In addition to issues such as training the medical workforce, the mental health of doctors, pressure on public hospitals and the lack of affordability of private health insurance, Dr Bartone said he had a particular interest in aged care.

“Our elderly population and access to quality aged care facilities and appropriate home care at the right time, at the right place. That is a fundamental issue that will really be always percolating through my time in the two years ahead.

“My general practice is full of patients over the age of 70. Most of them can’t speak English as their first language. They are frail. They have multiple diseases, multiple co-morbidities. They’ve worked hard for decades in Australia, making it the country it is, and now they rely on the care of their GP to keep them well. And that is ultimately the reason why I’m here today.”

Dr Bartone and his vice president Chris Zappala, who is also a GP, will serve a two-year term.

Posted in Movers and shakers

Tags: AMA, Tony Bartone

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