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23 Jun 2017

Two issues dominating recent health policy discussions have seen the AMA at the forefront of political debate, expressing concerns over the direction of some processes and decisions.

The medicinal cannabis and maternity services debates have kept AMA President Dr Michael Gannon a familiar face around Parliament House in Canberra, explaining doctors’ views to Government and the media.

Medicinal cannabis

After a surprise result from a Senate vote in June, terminally ill patients with a doctor’s prescription will be able to get faster access to medicinal cannabis and be allowed to import three months’ worth of their own personal supply of the drug.

The Greens pushed for changes to Government restrictions and they found support from Labor, One Nation and some independents.

But Health Minister Greg Hunt, who with his Government colleagues tried to stymie the move, said the outcome could put lives at risk.

He said the changes could open the way for questionable and unregulated products to be introduced to the market, as well as making it easier for criminals to access drugs.

“It is unfortunately a reckless and irresponsible decision,” Mr Hunt said.

Dr Gannon agrees, saying the AMA was disappointed with the move.

“You’ve already got a situation where doctors are querying exactly how effective medicinal cannabis is. If you in any way put any doubt in their minds about the safety, you’re simply not going to see it prescribed by many doctors,” he said.

“We remain concerned about potential diversion into the general community. And let’s not forget, we’re talking about cannabis. We’re talking about a substance that, used in the form it’s used by most people, is a major source of mental illness in our community.”

Dr Gannon said the AMA was satisfied with the process put in train by the Government through the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“The TGA’s got a process in place. Let’s support that careful process to make sure what is used is perfectly safe.”

The binding vote, which passed in the Senate 40 to 30, means medicinal cannabis will be put on the TGA’s Category A list, giving qualifying patients priority and faster access.

Maternity Services

The AMA is also warning that the planned new National Framework for Maternity Services (NFMS) was doomed to fail due to inadequate stakeholder consultation.

Describing the process as spectacular failure to adequately engage expert obstetric, general practice, and other crucial medical specialists in its development, Dr Gannon said opportunities for improvement were being lost.

Following an agreement at the April 2016 COAG Health Council meeting, the Queensland Government was tasked to lead the project to develop the NFMS, under the auspices of the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC).

The AMA first became aware of the NFMS project in December 2016 – eight months after it commenced, and without any direct contact from AHMAC’s Maternity Care Policy Working Group (MCPWG) or its consultants.

The AMA has raised concerns about the project ever since.

In June, however, Dr Gannon, an obstetrician, said it was outrageous that specialist obstetricians and GPs had been marginalised in the process.

“You could be forgiven for thinking it a joke,” he said.

“Obstetrician-led care is an essential tenet of Australia’s maternity system.

“But not involving a single obstetrician in a 12-member group tasked with looking at maternity services is like conducting a law and order review without talking to the police."

On June 23, the process did indeed fail and was scrapped.

Dr Gino Pecoraro, AMA Federal Councillor, attended an NFMA consultation on that day to discuss concerns.

He described the subsequent decision to scrap the process as a win for patients.

Dr Pecoraro said the process to date had been a monumental waste of time and money.

"The AMA has been clear that unless they went back and started again, then it wouldn't go anywhere," he said.

"It is a win for the women and children of Australia."


Chris Johnson

Published: 23 Jun 2017