AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, said today the AMA still has serious concerns about the revised new pregnancy counselling Medicare item, but is relieved that the new version is less likely to pose privacy concerns than the original.
The Government previously said the new Medicare item number - due to come into effect from 1 November 2006 - would be available for counselling patients who were uncertain about their pregnancy, a process that the AMA warned could allow the identification of women who were considering an abortion.
Dr Haikerwal said the wording has now been changed to allow the item to be accessed by women who are 'concerned about a pregnancy or a pregnancy that occurred in the preceding 12 months'.
"That's fine, as long as the term 'concerned' will allow a woman to see a GP for counselling about a wide range of pregnancy-related issues, not just because she may be uncertain about her pregnancy," Dr Haikerwal said.
"There must be no breaches of privacy."
Dr Haikerwal is now urging the Government to remove its requirement that GPs undergo additional training in 'non-directive counselling' before being allowed to use the item, saying the requirement is an insult to highly trained GPs.
"We've received no detail on what form this training would take and what it would entail," Dr Haikerwal said.
"We object to the notion that GPs are not capable of doing something which many of them already do every day, and which they are eminently qualified and experienced to do in an unbiased way.
"GPs are well trained in, and already delivering, non-directive counselling.
"Imposing a requirement for additional training creates a disincentive for GPs to use this item number, and that would ultimately disadvantage women."
The Government has made the item number available to all doctors, except those who have a direct pecuniary interest in services with a major focus on the provision of terminations," Dr Haikerwal said.
"The AMA believes the changes to this item will potentially help ensure more women have access to help when they need it, especially in rural areas, but the compulsory unnecessary training requirement will deter many doctors from taking it up," Dr Haikerwal said.