This provided the opportunity to briefly visit Canberra, to connect with the ACT Fellows and trainees, visit their EDs, listen to their stories and offer support. The visit coincided with World Emergency Medicine Day on 27 May, and attendance at RANZCOG’s Women’s Health Summit at the Australian Parliament; organised to discuss the critical issues around achieving better gender and health equity and outcomes for women. It was then on to Wagga Wagga, for another ED visit.

During this trip, the reality of the pandemic, once again reared its head; a cluster in Melbourne, a further snap lockdown for Victoria, and many lives further affected. The pandemic is not over yet. The disruption and uncertainty to our lives and work will continue until vaccination coverage across our populations has significantly improved. It is ever more important that vaccination programs are enhanced and expedited, and efforts to counter vaccine hesitancy redoubled, to give as much community protection as possible, particularly with winter now upon us.

The other major factor we continue to encounter is the immense pressure being faced by our emergency departments across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

These significant challenges persist, with barely a day or week passing without a new story emerging from across our countries about major systemic issues leading to dangerous access block in our emergency departments; occasionally, accompanied by tragic deaths.

The College has continued its significant public and political advocacy efforts in this regard, most notably in response to increasing acknowledgment from jurisdictional health ministers of these widespread issues across Australia. ACEM has called for greater state/territory and federal cooperation ahead of the next looming National Cabinet meeting, with a focus on short, medium and long term solutions to the complex factors that are present across healthcare systems, and manifesting in dangerous access block in our emergency departments.

Highlighting that it is indeed unsafe whole-of-healthcare system issues that are leading to these dangerous scenarios in our emergency departments remains a central pillar of our advocacy. Dangerous for our patients, certainly, but dangerous also for emergency department staff, who are doing their best to provide the highest possible standard of care in the face of mounting systemic pressures. It is the system that must be fixed, and it is systemic fixes that we continue to advocate for in our approaches to decision makers.

While we acknowledge the current situation is unsustainable, it is important to leave room for hope that circumstances can and will improve. We should take solace in the knowledge that the public and our communities, in the overwhelming majority of cases, are grateful for the excellent care we continue to provide, albeit in increasingly challenging circumstances. It is frustrating that part of our art as Emergency Physicians is refocusing someone who is angry and frustrated at waiting six hours or more to be seen, into someone who is grateful for the care they receive.

Of course, in this day and age, while access block and COVID-19 are the primary matters that occupy our thoughts and efforts on a day-by-day basis, the nature of societal change means that other threats are present that effect our ability, and that of others, to provide the standard of healthcare that we want for our communities. The effects of global warming on healthcare provision is an increasing issue for us, as is our increasing reliance on technology and the associated vulnerability of these systems. The latter was emphasised to me firsthand through the much publicised recent disruptions at my hospital as a result of a cyber attack and the associated effects on the hospital. It was a salient reminder of the realities of life in the twenty-first century.

In the current context, it is timely this year to mark CrazySocks4Docs Day and its associated virtual event on 4 June, which is once again supported by ACEM. This is an important opportunity to encourage conversations about mental health and help reduce the stigma for doctors experiencing mental health distress.

While maintaining wellbeing is complex, and different for everybody, a significant range of resources and tools exist to help us better understand the various contributors and understand what works for us.

This includes options and activities available through the College. To find out more, I encourage you to visit our website, or contact the team directly via [email protected].

On this theme, I would also like to flag the looming inaugural 2021 ACEM Wellness Week, set to run from Sunday 15 August to Saturday 21 August. Stay tuned for more information.

As we near the end of Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June), we think of this year’s theme – “More than a word. Reconciliation takes action”. This is a time for important discussions, and for us all to reflect on the actions we can and must take to progress genuine reconciliation. ACEM’s RAP committee continues their hard work as do our members around the country, working with Indigenous patients and their families.

In looking for hope in trying circumstances, it is important to remind ourselves of the positive aspects of our work, and to celebrate successes.

It was welcome to see that a FACEM-led trial in May was recognised as a joint winner of the 2021 ACTA Trial of the Year Award, for a landmark study that showed that a ‘hands off’ approach is best to treat a collapsed lung. Doing less was more.

This vital study, showing how intervening less can be better for patients, and its subsequent accolades, are further reminders of the wonderful work happening in our field of emergency medicine.  

COVID-19 arrangements permitting, my plan remains in late June to return to visit as many sites and jurisdictions as possible across Australia. I’ll look forward to catching up, in person, with as many of you as possible then, to listen to you and see what we as a College can do to support you.

Until then, as always, thank you all for your immense contributions to your communities, and our College.

Everything that you do makes a real difference, and although the going can get tough, it is worth remembering that.

Kia kaha – Stay strong.

Dr John Bonning
ACEM President