8 March 2019

Immediate start to three-year health workplace overhaul

| Ian Bushnell
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A program of cultural change will be implemented at ACT public health sites. File photo.

A list of priority areas to be addressed in ACT health workplaces will land on the Health Minister’s desk next week after the release of the Final Report from the Independent Review into Workplace Culture within ACT Public Health Services.

There are few changes in the Final Report, which outlines a three-year implementation timetable and was released five weeks after the damning Interim Report identified a disturbing culture of bullying and harassment in the ACT health system. The 20 recommendations have all been accepted by the Government.

The Review panel chair, Mick Reid, said he would be indicating a dozen or so areas where there were issues of particular concern, which would be referred to the group tasked to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.

He would not name the areas, saying the panel did not want them to distract from the overall pervasive nature of the problem, which needed to be addressed across the totality of the system.

Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris said people would be held to account and dealing with the clusters of poor behaviour was an important first task for the Cultural Review Oversight Group made up of health executives, and medical, nursing and consumer bodies.

“Repeat poor behaviours have been referred to relevant agencies, including outside of ACT Health, Canberra Health Services and Calvary Hospital,” the Minister said.

Asked if he anticipated any dismissals, Mr Reid said that was a matter for CEOs but “if people aren’t willing to change then they don’t have a place in the workforce in ACT Health or any other health service in Australia and that’s what has got to be called out, highlighted and acted upon,” he said.

Ms Fitzharris committed the Government to implementing the Review recommendations over the three-year timeline in as transparent and open a manner as possible, with the Government’s response tabled in the Assembly within three months.

“This is a real turning point and I note the panel concludes there is cautious optimism amongst the new leadership,” she said. “I share that cautious optimism and am confident that 2019 will be a turning point and this review will be a driver for change.”

Ms Fitzharris said an executive post to lead the Implementation Team would be filled soon and the Oversight Group would meet before the end of the month to discuss actions in all health organisations.

Mr Reid said the three-year implementation timeframe was needed because “culture change is a slow burn” but ”there should be measurable change every six months”.

The Interim Report noted a great degree of disengagement by doctors but Mr Reid said that had changed markedly during the final round of consultation with key stakeholders before the release of the Final Report.

“They saw that this was not a report that was trying to hide anything, they accepted that it was honest in the descriptions of the concerns they had expressed to us,” he said. “They realised that at some stage they’ve got to be part of the change process too.

He believed the medical workforce would lead because doctors realised that change could not occur without them.

Doctors had called for a Board of Inquiry and doubted Ms Fitzharris should chair the Oversight Group but Mr Reid said he had convinced them and nursing staff that the Minister was best placed to lead that implementation rather than an independent person.

The Minister welcomed doctors’ engagement and said that next week she would putting out expressions of interest for the Clinical Leadership Forum that she flagged back in September when the Review was announced.

“This will provide an opportunity for clinical leaders to work with me and inform me of key clinical issues now and into the future,” she said.

AMA (ACT) President, Dr Antonio Di Dio said the Final Report vindicated many of the concerns raised by Canberra’s doctors, nurses, patients and the broader community.

Dr Di Dio agreed with the Review Panel’s finding that the ‘voice of clinicians, particularly the senior medical workforce, needs to be amplified throughout the ACT Public Health System’.

But despite what Ms Ftizharris has said, Dr Di Dio believed a holding of individuals to account for past poor behaviour was missing from the report.

“A major reason why AMA (ACT) called for a Board of Inquiry into workplace culture was its ability to investigate both current and past system problems and hold people to account,” he said.

“There’s no doubt this remains a missing element that needs to be dealt with and it’s a matter we are taking up with Minister Fitzharris.”

The main changes in the Final Report included actions to better engage staff and NGOs, further attention to the role of Human Resources and recruitment and clarifying the membership of the Oversight Group.

Mr Reid said the Final Report was handed in sooner than expected because stakeholders accepted the recommendations and that the Interim Report represented the problem well, and ”the best thing to do was to go ahead, get on and implement it”.

To view the final report go to: https://health.act.gov.au/Culture-Review


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