Family doctors have social justice role

At a recent meeting hosted by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, Professor Michael Kidd (pictured) spoke to a roomful of lawyers about human rights from a medical perspective.

Some of the lawyers, Professor Kidd said, were perplexed.

“Their response was, ‘Why are you talking about human rights? Human rights are a legal issue, not a medical issue’,” he said.

“I think they’re wrong.”

For Professor Kidd – Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Flinders University, former president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and President-elect of WONCA, the World Organisation of Family Doctors – health and human rights are inextricably linked.

It’s a message he shared last month with peers as guest speaker at a plenary session of GP12, the RACGP’s annual conference; and it’s one he intends to spread further.

“If doctors don’t stand up for issues of social justice, especially with our privileged place in society, who is going to?” Professor Kidd said.

“Especially family doctors – we have access to pretty well everybody in the community. Each GP is knowledgeable about the health and wellbeing and social issues that are affecting the people they provide care to and the communities they serve,” he said.

Australia’s system of universal access to public hospitals, our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and our subsidised primary care, Professor Kidd said, are good examples of a nation addressing access to health care as a fundamental human right.

“We have a strong track record in human rights and tackling discrimination and working towards equity. A lot of that permeates our approach to health care,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean our system is perfect or that there isn’t an awful lot we can still do, as we see with the existing social disparity among different groups of people in this country, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Professor Kidd begins his three-year tenure as President of WONCA, the global organisation representing over 250,000 GPs and other family doctors in 122 countries, in June 2013.

He intends, unabashedly, to promote the Australian concept of ‘a fair go’ to his colleagues abroad.

“It’s part of my platform. There is a lot about the way we do things in Australia which can have an impact in other parts of the world,” he said.

There are also lessons he expects to learn overseas that will flow in the other direction.

“One of the fascinating things about being involved in global health is that you get to see how things are done in other places and it’s an opportunity to bring home good ideas, as well, and not just from the traditional countries we’ve got our ideas from in the past.”

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3 thoughts on “Family doctors have social justice role

  1. Congratulations Professor Kidd and all the best for your term. If a patient is dirty, unattractive, experiencing complex social issues, they are inarticulate or unable to present themselves in a way that is easily understood it makes Human Rights violations even more likely to occur across the board and social justice is consequently denied in multiples spheres of that persons life. It seems that the greater the complexity the greater the apathy demonstrated by some providers towards that person. Unhealthy tolerance and a warped concept of ‘social inclusion’ towards individuals in dire need compounds harmful social attitudes and a failure to intervene or act. (See the SA Coroner’s Finding for Jarrod Roberts for example – a child who was seriously ill before he was presented to a large clinic but living in conditions of extreme filth and deprivation with multiple systems failures which contributed to his eventual death through neglect). Given that the Australian population is ever increasing resulting in increased competition for already limited resources the concept of ‘fair go’ is really being lost for many citizens living here. So whilst it seems critical that people are able to have a good relationship with their local general practice it would also seem that the Commonwealth and State governments are more interested in investing in the superclinics or outsourcing to NGO’s for short term service provision which places much more value on a practice assuming a supermarket approach to patient care or social services rather than placing any value in fostering ongoing and continuing relations. Since there is no ‘stop check’ on Medicare if patients aren’t happy with the services provided it would seem to be financially rewarding the opposite of the approach you are advocating because issues of justice for individuals doesn’t really seem to come into the equation. Rather, these clinics are going to be most financially viable if they provide a quick fix prescriptions and send people out the door rather than developing a socially inclusive, logically based, wholistic approach to broad spectrum social issues and referral to meaningful services or supports which may alter peoples lives for the better over the longer term – which is an approach which requires an ongoing committment. Why aren’t these superclinics sharing space with legal clinics for example or Victim Support Services or Families SA or Service SA if they are legitimately going to be one-stop-shops for human needs? Although I guess this is really representative of what can only be perceived as the changing face of the concept of community across many different societies as its certainly an issue that is prevalent across the Australian landscape. Good luck!

  2. I have read this with interest and support Professor Kidd. I’d like to point out that nurses and other members of the multidisciplinary primary health care team have been advocating for patients rights within and outside of the health system for quite a while. It is not the sole domain of family doctors. With the continued ‘supermarket approach’ mentioned above and without an MBS/PBS incentive for GPs I think the going will be slow. But good luck!

  3. When it comes to your children’s health, you want to find a health care professional that you can relate to and have a good level of comfort with. There are many factors to consider in choosing a family is useful information for me. I am glad to find a good way of writing the post.

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