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03 Apr 2020

With welcome news that escalation in COVID-19 infections has slowed in recent days, thanks to so many across the Australian community practising self-isolation measures, I want to give you a snapshot of some of the key areas of the AMA’s work over the last week on your behalf.

I know members in the public and private sector alike are very concerned about access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

State and Territory AMAs are engaging with their Health Departments to shore up supplies in public hospitals and, at a Commonwealth level, I am in daily contact with the Health Minister and Chief Medical Officer. The Commonwealth has in place orders for hundreds of millions of masks, gowns, and goggles - and these are now arriving in the country on an almost daily basis.

I have received reassurances that, as the stock of PPE improves, the Commonwealth will expand its availability beyond those areas currently prioritised. Furthermore, let us be all clear that no doctor should be exposed to the risk of COVID-19 without adequate PPE.

New telehealth measures that the AMA worked extensively and collaboratively with Health Minister Greg Hunt to establish are now up and running. In excess of 125,000 consultations were conducted by phone or video on the first day of the Medicare Benefits Schedule permitting telehealth.

Prescriptions are now able to be authorised by telehealth and communicated electronically (by any means) for dispensing. Such a major advance in doctor-patient care has been achieved in just a few days  – as well as saving our precious PPE.

The list of MBS telehealth items for non-GP specialists will be expanded further in coming days, and the Government has committed to relaxing the current requirement to bulk bill all telehealth consultations.

Services Australia is making the system changes to make this happen, and information about the available items is updated regularly on the MBS Online website.

The AMA is providing regularly updated information to help explain and implement the new telehealth measures for GPs and non-GP specialists. Please visit the AMA COVID-19 information hub by clicking here for regular telehealth detail updates, including updates on the MBS item numbers for which telehealth is applicable for General Practice and Private Medical Specialists.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced a guarantee for private hospitals. The guarantee will underwrite operating costs for State or Territory Government directed public patient case mix and volumes in private hospitals. The guarantee requires State and Territory Governments to establish agreements with private hospital operators.

The AMA is in contact with each of Australia’s nine governments, private hospital operators, and medical specialist colleges to define how medical specialists will be engaged under the private hospital guarantee, and to determine what case mix and volume of private patient care will continue alongside the private hospital guarantee.

It is vitally imperative that the central role of private health be sustained through the COVID-19 period, and that the State and Territory agreements to implement the private hospital guarantee be crafted for both Private Medical Specialists and private patient care to recover at the end of the COVID-19 period.

The Government has announced business viability supports that are accessible for medical practices. The AMA’s proposal to support the viability of General Practice resulted in Health Minister Hunt announcing the doubling of the bulk billing incentive for GPs and an expansion of the Practice Incentive Program. General practices that remain open during the pandemic will have their next two Practice Incentive Program Quality Improvement (PIPQI) payments doubled.

You can access details on this General Practice viability supplement here.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has announced several measures, each of which is accessible to medical practices, to support business viability. The JobKeeper program provides payments to businesses experiencing a drop in income to retain their staff, with fortnightly payments of $1,500 per eligible employee available.

The Boosting Cash Flow for Employers program provides eligible businesses with $100,000 to cover rent, bills, and employee wages.

The Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme supports loans to small businesses. These measures are explained at the AMA COVID-19 information hub, which you can access by clicking here.

Rest assured; this is not the end of our advocacy on this front.

The AMA is also deeply committed to addressing the concerns of our doctors in training. Led by our Council of Doctors in Training, we are engaging with prevocational medical education councils, medical colleges, and employers to ensure that doctors in training are physically safe in their workplaces and have the supervision and support they need to provide care to patients. We are working to resolve concerns over training and progression through training pathways and you can read more about this work here.

Thank you all for the contribution you are making to Australia’s COVID-19 response.

What we are going through as the medical profession is not easy, and will continue for some time. Balancing the care for our patients, the concern for our working arrangements, and support for our loved ones is indeed a highly pressured, stressful juggle - a juggle that will require all our training, resilience, and adaptive talents.

I trust that we will all continue to support each other during these difficult times and, indeed, make time to ensure that we are also looking after ourselves, as difficult as that might be.

Our AMA is committed to making life as easy as possible for the medical profession, our patients, and the broader Australian community. If the AMA can help you in any way, please get in touch via 

Yours sincerely

Dr Tony Bartone
Federal President

Published: 03 Apr 2020