A message from GPRA President Dr Antony Bolton
Like me, I’m sure you’re breathing a sigh of relief that we made it through 2020 without any further disasters being unleashed.
A number of recent local outbreaks have been effectively controlled by public health measures, particularly in my home state of New South Wales, and we are collectively thankful that our experience with covid has been so different to other countries. Vaccines are on the way, and with them comes opportunity and the possibility of life returning to normal.
No group within medicine is more hopeful for what 2021 will bring than GPs in training.
After years of stagnant wages during which the GP registrar base rate of pay did not even increase in line with inflation, there is renewed interest in our employment terms and conditions. Various pilot schemes are in operation, or soon to commence, around the country. At the same time, responsibility for training is being returned to its rightful home at the general practice medical colleges.
The Commonwealth Department of Health has committed to “improving support and incentives to registrars, and their supervisors” and “considering options to make GP registrar conditions better aligned to their hospital-based counterparts.”
As the body that holds the mandate to negotiate on behalf of GPs in training, GPRA is grateful for these assurances and for the contributions our stakeholders have made to this discussion.
The start of a New Year is an appropriate time to spend a few moments reviewing how we’ve arrived at this point.
The conversation began with GPRA’s discussion paper, released in March last year. In it we summarised the situation to date regarding the National Terms & Conditions for the Employment of Registrars (NTCER) and five key issues that our members consistently raise with us. We also outlined 6 potential new employment models.
This was followed in September by our Round Table, in which we brought together representatives from across the spectrum of training programmes in general practice. This event was intended to bring all relevant groups together in the spirit of collegiality to find common ground on the issues we face in our employment. The Round Table identified 5 clear themes affecting most trainees that correlated strongly with the issues we had described in the preceding discussion paper.
Most significantly, the number one issue for most trainees was the unacceptably low base rate of pay.
This is consistent with the feedback we’ve been receiving from our members for several years and historically is the result of coupling the GP registrar base rate of pay with item 23 in the MBS, the value of which was frozen between 2013-2018.
While the NTCER has many flaws, it must be acknowledged that the current situation has arisen through the real-terms reduction in GP registrar pay, which in itself is a product of chronic underfunding of general practice in Australia.
At GPRA, we are hopeful that the conversation about employment terms and conditions will continue in the collegiate and collaborative manner in which it has begun. We thank and acknowledge the AMACDT for hosting the recent Single Employer Model round table and look forward to future events with all stakeholders that will build on and expand these discussions.
GPRA stands ready to continue to represent the needs of our members across the diversity of GP training in Australia, to work towards a new employment model that addresses the issues GPs in training face without creating new ones, and enter into discussions with our negotiating partners when called upon.
Junior doctor applications to GP training via the AGPT have been falling since 2015 and poor remuneration is likely a major factor. Getting this right is fundamental to creating a motivated and sustainable workforce in general practice that can meet the needs of the communities we serve.
I welcome your feedback, thoughts and suggestions.