On Monday, the ACT branch of the Australian Medical Association made a public call for an independent judicial inquiry into workplace culture and bullying in the ACT healthcare system.
In our view, an independent judicial inquiry is needed as a circuit breaker for the almost non-stop series of crises and complaints that have been coming out of the local health system over an extended period.
The association's ACT board members met Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris and director-general Michael De’Ath last Saturday evening and urged the minister to take leadership of this situation. We wanted her to seize the opportunity and send a strong message to the local community and staff of ACT Health that she’s willing to take on poor workplace culture and bullying at ACT Health.
In our view, it’s important that a proper, independent inquiry be held and is set up in a manner that encourages community members and staff to come forward, to tell their stories and experiences and be protected from reprisals. It must be able to call witnesses before it and require documents to be produced. It must hold public hearings and have the power to hear sensitive evidence in private.
It must have the opportunity to publicly scrutinise the workplace culture of ACT Health and hold it to account.
We’ve offered to work with the minister to make sure a strong independent inquiry is set up and the recommendations from it are implemented.
Why are we doing this?
We believe it’s time for the association to step up and show public leadership on these issues and also, it’s just the right thing to do.
Our patients, our colleagues and our members are telling us they’re losing confidence in the ACT healthcare system and the association believes it’s time for the local medical profession to play a leading role in changing the workplace culture
The driving force of our intervention is to ensure that the community can continue to have confidence in the ACT healthcare system
We also want to stand up for all health workers, doctors, nurses and all the many other dedicated health staff – including young doctors and medical students – to ensure their working lives are safe, fulfilling and rewarding because we know that also leads to better patient outcomes.
This decision has been coming for a long time. It’s come from what seems to have been a continual series of crises within ACT Health and its inability or unwillingness to deal with the systemic issues. From switchboard fires to data disasters, waiting list blow-outs and persistent allegations of bullying, ACT Health has struggled for a long time.
- the "sudden departure" of the previous director-general Nicole Feely;
- an Auditor-General report that found ACT Health mishandled allegations of bullying concerning the conduct of the previous director-general;
- 33 failures – some critical – in the first accreditation report for the Canberra Hospital and associated health services;
- the decision to split ACT Health and the dislocation and uncertainty it caused to staff;
- Public allegations of bullying and harassment at Canberra and Calvary hospitals;
- the downgrading of training accreditation at Canberra Hospital radiology from the A it had held for 25 years to a D rating, the complaints of bullying and multiple public interest disclosures concerning radiology; and
- the blow out in waiting times for many of our public services
Then, most recently, after being told the splitting of ACT Health would go a long way to solving these problems, a new chief executive appointed on a Monday, resigned on the Thursday. Not to mention even more complaints of bullying on page 1 of The Canberra Times the same day
The association's board – made up of a highly experienced mix of long-serving local doctors – made the decision that enough was enough and we needed to act. The cost of poor workplace culture and bullying is just too high to bear.
The tipping point had been reached and we had to speak out.
Antonio Di Dio is the ACT president of the Australian Medical Association