Process questioned

GIPPSLAND’S new primary health care umbrella organisation elected its directors last week amid accusations of improper process.

On Thursday Gippsland Medicare Local confirmed it had elected five directors to its board at an annual meeting while an “independent nominations committee” had recommended a further four appointments, completing a full nine-member board.

The elections proceeded despite calls to have Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek intervene in a process some sources said had excluded and “disenfranchised” general practitioners throughout the region. Past president of Central and West Gippsland Division of General Practice Dr Vaughan Speck told The Express Ms Plibersek needed to “restore confidence” in the new GML, an amalgamation of three former divisions of general practice covering all of Gippsland.

He said “sections of the interim (GML) board” had effectively banned several former members of the CWGDoGP “from eligibility for nomination to the board they helped create”.

Dr Speck said there had been “no consultation with local GPs about the ban, nor had members of the CWGDoGP been provided with adequate explanation of their disqualification”.

The decision, according to Dr Speck, also came “hot on the heels” of the interim GML board opening membership (and eligibility to vote for directors) for “barely three days”.

Former State Labor MP Brendan Jenkins, whose partner Dr Susan Clarke was one of many GPs unable to register for membership within the narrow timeframe he said was allowed, has also condemned the process adopted by GML’s interim board. Mr Jenkins said he had been approached by other local GPs concerned about a range of anomalies they believed were evidence of the board failing to appropriately abide by its constitution.

“The bottom line is that if this had all been done in a proper manner there would probably be up to 1000 people Gippsland-wide who would have become members and should have been if this (GML) base was as broadened as it was supposed to be, (in line with) the agreement of all the former divisions,” he said.

Mr Jenkins said he believed the former CWGDoGP alone had about 120 members yet the new GML had less than 90. A series of concerns formed the basis of a legal letter sent to the then GML director and independent chair John Harte on behalf of former CWGDoGP and East Gippsland Primary Health Alliance Limited, claiming GML had breached numerous clauses of its constitution. The letter also questioned GML’s power to appoint four “appointed directors” to the board prior to its annual meeting, given the constitution declared those appointments could only be made once GML’s initial five directors had been validly elected at the meeting.

Mr Jenkins claimed GML had made those four appointments prior to the annual meeting and challenged the “constitutional merit” of those appointments.

A statement issued by GML, prior to its annual meeting, instead claimed an independent committee had recommended four “outstanding candidates” for appointment while a “further seven were put forward for the five elected positions” and all were to be elected by ballot at the meeting. Referring to claims several GPs had been “prevented from being considered for election”, Mr Harte said “invariably with such a process, some applicants that responded to the advertisement will be disappointed that they have not been nominated for election or appointment”.

Speaking after the annual meeting Mr Jenkins also questioned the representative nature of GML’s permanent appointments, saying there were “holes in representations from the broader region” and a concentration of members from the central Latrobe Valley area.