GP21 a vibrant, thoughtful, successful conference

By Simone White, Senior Communications Advisor and Emma McCleary, Manager Communications and Events

10 August 2021

Category: College and members

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Opening GP21: the conference for general practice on the morning of Friday, 6 August, President Dr Samantha Murton said she couldn’t sugar-coat how tough the past 18 months had been.  

She was speaking to an audience of more than 700 delegates at the College’s biggest ever conference in Wellington and while she was her usual affable and upbeat self, she was also very clear about the realities of general practice and rural hospital medicine, speaking strongly about the workforce pressures the College’s members are facing on the front line. When she asked anyone in the room to stand up if their practice had a GP vacancy, a three-week wait list to see a GP, or was no longer able to take new patients about half the room stood up creating a powerful statement. One that was seen by the next two speakers waiting to follow Dr Murton; Health Minister Andrew Little and Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.  

Dr Samantha Murton speaks at the GP21 conference
Dr Samantha Murton address the delegates at GP21: the Conference for General Practice

When Health Minister Andrew Little spoke he acknowledged the work of general practice and highlighted his party’s commitment to health, saying “The Labour Party is the party of public health, and 20 cents of every dollar currently goes into health.” 

He announced a new Health System Indicators framework to measure how well the health and disability system serves 鶹Ƶers. 

And then the floor opened to questions, which in addition to being heard in the room, were reported by media (a growing group of them arriving as the conference opened) and live-streamed through Stuff.co.nz. The   but in reality he got asked a series of direct questions from doctors who know what it’s like to work in ‘real’ 鶹Ƶ, whose questions are informed by experience rather than policy. Delegates asked about increasing poverty statistics, inequity, and chronic GP shortages all realities every day for them and their patients. 

While the theme for GP21 was, ‘Building for the future – transforming the health sector’ the College, in developing the event, was mindful of the conditions our members have been working in for a long time and wanted to ensure speakers shared their own stories of wellness, stress, burnout, and recovery (or redirection) and Dr Ashley Bloomfield was no exception.  

He lightened the mood by starting his speech in the classic 1pm standup format, “Tēnā koutou katoa, this is not a COVID-19 announcement.”  

He spoke about his personal experience of leading the country through a global pandemic and how he’s had to get used to seeing his face on t-shirts calling him ‘The curve crusher’. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 and the response of general practice and rural hospital medicine featured heavily in his presentation. He also spoke openly about the enormous pressure of advising the country on the best course of action, the personal weight that carried, and how he worked through it.  

He also spoke about the opportunity to use the capabilities of the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination rollout and adapt them to other vaccination programmes – such as the MMR campaign and childhood immunisations, both which have been in decline since 2020. 

Dr Ashley Bloomfield speaks at GP21: the Conference for General Practice
Dr Ashley Bloomfield speaks at GP21: the Conference for General Practice

Impressive line-up of speakers 

As always the conference content was structured around notable keynote speakers, which are supported by a programme of interesting and thoughtful speakers in concurrent sessions. 

Professor David Tipene-Leach spoke on cultural safety – that it is here to stay and the changes we can all make to ensure we have a more equitable and safe health care system going forward. 

Well-known psychologist Nigel Latta joined us on Saturday morning and presented his guide to burnout for the professionally flammable. While his casual and very witty presentation had us cackling into our coffees, he did also provide useful tips and tricks on how to identify, and deal with burnout and what burnout is and is not. 

His key message was to keep focused on what you can control, and to be here in the moment. If your mind starts to wander and you find yourself getting stressed on something that you ultimately cannot change to move to saying, “just ruminating” before letting it go.

We were very fortunate to have a live question and answer session with UK GP Dame Clare Gerada, following a pre-recorded interview that played ahead of that. In her interview with President Sam she discussed the highlights of her incredible career, in particular the work she did in establishing NHS Practitioner Health – a service for doctors and other health professionals who are experiencing mental health issues in the UK to access – and over 3,000 a year are doing so. Professor James Renwick shared the latest science on climate change and its implications on the health system on Sunday morning.  

Panel sessions were new this year 

Panel sessions on telehealth, health reforms, and the End-of-Life Care Act provided delegates an opportunity to hear a range of opinions from GPs, rural hospital doctors, and others in the health sector on these very important and topical issues. Delegate questions provided an extra layer of input to create lively sessions that people were still talking about well after each panel ended. 

Concurrent sessions 

Six concurrent sessions ran continuously throughout the conference, when keynotes or panels weren’t on, and delegates were treated to a wide range of topics – there was definitely something for everyone. Topics ranged from contraception, eczema, COVID-19, creating a safe, gender-affirming primary care practice, the future of healthcare, responding to family violence, rural vs urban healthcare and myriad equity issues. 

Winners and new GPs and rural hospital doctors 

A highlight of the conference is always the Fellowship and Awards ceremony and this year it was a biggie as we celebrated and graduated winners and new Fellows from 2020 and 2021 (last year’s ceremony was cancelled by COIVD-19). At the College we often talk about the flexibility of general practice and that it’s a good career option to build around families and this ceremony was very much about family… from the pile of prams at the back of the room, to the small children clambering to find Mum or Dad in their gown, to the cheers of supporting relatives as our newest Fellows crossed the stage to be presented to the President.  

Read about our list of 

GP21 Fellowship and awards ceremony
The 2021 Fellowship and Awards ceremony

Conference is a collegial, cup-filling, energetic experience and one that we can’t wait to do again. At the close of this year’s conference President Samantha Murton announced that the location for GP22 as Christchurch. Email us now communications@rnzcgp.org.nz if you’d like to hear when registrations for GP22 open next year.