President’s Blog: In their hands | AMA (WA)


Dr Mark Duncan-Smith | AMA (WA)

President’s Blog: In their hands

Friday December 17, 2021

Dr Mark Duncan-Smith, AMA (WA) President

Just lately, I’ve seen the future. No, I haven’t opened up a portal to another dimension in some forgotten section of Charlie’s, though those who work there will tell you that’s entirely possible. 

But I’ve been taking part in some wonderful graduation ceremonies for our newest Western Australian doctors. The future of the WA health system belongs to them and it’s our responsibility to hand it to them in the best shape possible.

It’s tempting to think about medicine as all about our hands, and the seeming magic we can do by administering the right treatment after an examination or making that precise surgical cut. But for doctors, all the senses need to be engaged, as well as the faculties that contribute to our ability to consider, reflect, decide and reason.

The commitment to reduced border restrictions from 5 February 2022 at least gives us a focus for all efforts to prepare for what lies aheadI’ve repeated the phrase often now in the media but that’s WA’s start date for the pandemic, not an end date. 

As I mentioned in our media conference on Monday in welcoming the decision: 

“This will provide certainty to society. It will help with the mental health of society, and it will also provide a focus to hopefully increase those vaccination rates well beyond the 90 per cent. 

“We support the travel protocols that should allow for a very slow entry of COVID into WA and that should result in is a slow burn of COVID through society rather than a tidal wave of severely ill people.” 

Thursday was a challenging day, with an unspeakable tragedy giving us all reason to pause. The deaths and critical injuries of several young Tasmanians are the stuff of nightmares for any parent or family member. Life can be fickle but for a gust of wind to somehow so decidedly contribute to the fate of lives just starting to develop fully, and in such an otherwise joyous set of circumstances, is utterly heart-breaking. 

I’m passionate about child vaccination and it’s the development of every Western Australian child, indeed every child anywhere, that motivates me. One Christmas gift that’s been bestowed on us is the setting of 10 January 2022 as the date for the availability of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5-11. It has the potential to change the course of life for our children and the AMA (WA) encourages all parents to take advantage of this opportunity, especially given the reopening of the State the following month. 

Life can be fickle but it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure whatever predictability of life from a public health perspective that we can. 

Thursday again brought this to the fore, when the young Australian cricket captain was ruled out of the Second Ashes Test in what would have been just his second time in charge.  

Western Australia has been painted as some sort of pariah and backwater for daring to stare down Australian cricket authorities about the terms of players’ movements here. Yet here is Adelaide, denied the sight of the world’s best bowler, Pat Cummins, on a pitch he loves. A failure to establish proper guidelines and protocols is to blame, nothing less.  

WA’s rules, supported and shaped by the position of the AMA (WA), afford the State the predictability that has minimised lockdowns, death and impact on the economy. We commend the Government on this score, particularly in putting such precedence on the wise counsel of Chief Health Officer Dr Andy Robertson and his team. 

Don’t forget it was following just such guidelines that gave us the magnificent spectacle of the AFL Grand Final in Perth just a few short months ago. 

The Government also managed to find more money for health in their Mid-year Review announced on Thursday. We welcomed the additional spend, designed to adjust for the new border arrangements and the potential strain on the health system when COVID-19 arrives.  

But that predictability has been lacking, despite the big numbers flying around. What we want is an adjustment to recurrent spending that ensures the health system can operate at optimal levels, not in an endless state of stress and strain, with overworked doctors, overflowing EDs and ICUs, and relentlessly high rates of ambulance ramping. 

To top it all, now we have a new Health and Mental Health Minister, Amber-Jade Sanderson. We thank Roger Cook for his years of service, with the AMA (WA) constantly at his heels. It’s the nature of the big chair and it’s not easy, not always fun but we respect the position and its many responsibilities. Congratulations to Stephen Dawson for his move to new portfolio responsibilities after his stint as Mental Health Minister. 

We will afford Ms Sanderson that same respect and look forward to fruitful collaboration to, for starters, adjust the health budget in the long term and provide permanency for our public hospital doctors.  

I’ll be holding my loved ones just that bit tighter this Christmas and maybe you should do the same. Together we’ve made it through this tumultuous year. My prediction for the future? We’ve fought to get it right, we’ve often got it right, and we will continue to do so in 2022. We owe that to our young medical graduates, to our children. Here’s to our collective good health in the New Year.