Quest for GP fellowship recognition continues | AMA (WA)


Rural town

Quest for GP fellowship recognition continues

Thursday August 11, 2022

Dr Peter Maguire, Chair, AMA (WA) Rural Doctors Group

City-based doctors may assume that the outcome of the Industrial Agreement (IA) will have little impact on General Practice. While that will be true for many metropolitan and rural GPs, there are a significant number of fellows of RACGP and ACRRM who are working on salary for WA Health, and covered by the IA. This includes District Medical Officers (DMOs) working in hospitals in the north of the State, as well as many working in emergency departments in larger towns in the south.

Like other doctors, they will be disappointed with the financial outcome of the deal. You don’t need to be a mathematician or economist to see that, in the current economic climate, a $1,000 payment plus 2.75 per cent later equals a cut in real wages. As discussed elsewhere in this issue, this seems the least bad result, with arbitration likely to deliver even less. Balanced against that, there are gains in terms of portability of entitlements, particularly at junior doctor level, and moves towards better security of employment. Those issues, plus the reality that we are unlikely to achieve a larger pay rise in the current environment, have resulted in a reluctant acceptance of the Government’s offer.

However, the aspect of the IA that will be most disappointing to GPs is the refusal of the Health Department to recognise the GP fellowships as specialist qualifications within the salary structure. They have indicated they are prepared to look at this further during the life of the Agreement, i.e. within two years. This is cold comfort, but an improvement on their position a year ago, when they rejected it out of hand. All is not lost yet though, as the AMA (WA) has a hearing scheduled for this recognition before the Industrial Magistrate’s Court in October. Fingers crossed. Should that action fail, the AMA (WA) will continue to advocate for recognition of GP fellowships to occur.

The case for equal pay for GP Fellows is strong, as I outlined in Medicus two years ago on the back of our Fair Go campaign. The value to the rural health system of generalists is no less than the value of single-discipline specialists. In fact, the scope of the generalist often allows a single practitioner to cover several disciplines in towns which could not support a multitude of sub-specialists.

There are downsides for the Health Department in not moving to accept GPs as specialists. A look at job advertisements for similar jobs in other states suggests we may be slipping back in the field, which will only make recruitment more difficult. Improving GP salaries might also aid in recruiting permanent staff to positions which are currently mainly staffed by (much more expensive) locums. It might also encourage more junior doctors to consider enrolling in the Rural Generalist Training Program, which seems to be having a slow take-off in WA. Given our desperate workforce situation, improving the salaries of GPs working for WA Country Health Service in particular may be a very worthwhile investment.

It certainly isn’t time for popping champagne corks − maybe we can manage a cheap prosecco. We have gained some ground in some areas, but much work is still to be done to get a better deal for our salaried members. The AMA (WA)’s industrial relations team is in for a busy couple of years!

Note: The wages increase related to the new Industrial Agreement as described in this article has since been revised and updated. AMA (WA) is currently reviewing details of the revised wages increase. This article first appeared in the June/July edition of Medicus.