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Getting the Government to See

Client: 

Optometrists Association of QLD & NT

PR Company: 

BBS

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2009 C2 - 4

Year: 

2009

Executive Summary: 

In the lead up to the March 2009 Queensland state election, the Optometrists Association of Australia (QLD and NT Division) identified an opportunity to lobby the State Government to reinstate optometrists’ power to prescribe Glaucoma and Uveitis medication.

In 2005, the Queensland Government revoked optometrists’ authority to prescribe and administer this vital medication to more than 600,000 Glaucoma sufferers across the State. Queensland was the only state to do this, disadvantaging more than 300,000 of Glaucoma patients who lived regionally with limited access to specialist eye surgeons.

This action also placed more pressure on the public health system, with waiting lists for ophthalmologists growing at an unprecedented rate.

BBS was appointed by the association to create a three-month lobbying campaign that successfully led to the signed commitment by the Australian Labour Party and the Liberal National Opposition to commit to change the legislation if elected in favour of the position preferred by the Optometrists Association of Australia.

The program involved a grass-roots campaign that generated support from the ground up, engaged ‘‘White Knights’’ and secured direct interaction with more than 100 State candidates during the pre-election period.

A key component to the success of the lobbying program was BBS’ ability to ensure that the right politicians heard and acknowledged the community’s voice. This was achieved by presenting community support in the most politically effective way.

Situation Analysis: 


The problem:


In 2005, the Queensland Government revoked permission for optometrists to prescribe and administer Glaucoma and Uveitis medication in Queensland.

This was done amidst the height of Queensland Health’s public scrutiny and under intense pressure from the ophthalmology lobby group. It was perceived by some as a knee-jerk reaction to help restore the public’s faith in the State’s health system.

The impact of this action had instead placed more pressure on the public health system because Queensland’s 600,000 Glaucoma and Uveitis sufferers were now forced to consult an ophthalmologist (specialist eye surgeon) to receive their eye medication.

More than 50% of Glaucoma suffers live in the State’s remote and regional areas where access to specialists is limited. Queensland was now the only State in Australia where optometrists were not authorised to prescribe and administer the routine eye drops.



The opportunity:


With reform of the Queensland Health system and service delivery in rural and regional Queensland looming as major issues during the 2009 state election campaign, the Optometrists Association had a unique opportunity to present its case to the wider public.

Timing was critical for the lobbying program, as it was essential to secure the State Government’s support in the lead up to the Queensland state election.



Why this was important to the client:


It was important for the government to reinstate optometrists’ power to prescribe and administer Glaucoma and Uveitis medication in order to:

· Provide a vital health service to the state’s 600,000 Glaucoma and Uveitis sufferers, particularly those in regional and rural areas

· Relieve pressure on the public health system

· Restore public confidence in the state’s optometrists

· Shift power from the medical profession back to optometrists in dictating how the optometry profession is governed.


Why public relations was needed:


A strategic lobbying program was required to apply pressure on the government directly from industry representatives and indirectly from the ground up. This involved swaying public opinion which required mass communication, particularly media relations.

Direct contact with the government was also required by key members of the Association. This created a further need for the lobbying program to equip optometrists with communication tools to successfully secure meetings with state candidates and deliver a persuasive argument. Public relations components required included key messages, Q & As and briefing documents.

Research: 

BBS researched the association’s previous campaigns to identify past successes and failures to inform the 2009 lobbying strategy. BBS deemed the previous campaign from 2005 as ‘too emotional’ and alienated the government with its indicting tone.

The previous campaign included:

 

· Tackling ophthalmologists head on by criticising their aggressive lobbying actions (such as accusing ophthalmologists of compromising patient care when staging a hospital walk out/strike)

· Condemning the government for siding with the AMA at the expense of patient care

· Challenging the Premier to demonstrate one example of a breach of patient care by optometrists

· Criticising the Premier for ‘bragging about retraining optometrists to take over some of the simple tasks that ophthalmologists don’t have time for’ (as quoted from a previous media release by the Optometrists Association).

BBS also researched the attitudes of opponents to this change and identified the ‘counter-view’ which would undoubtedly be put by ophthalmologists and others. Some of these arguments included:

· Issues over patient safety (and scare tactics)

· Inadequate training by Queensland University of Technology (QUT is a key educator in optometry in Queensland)

· Lack of access to the PBS.

 

BBS then refined key messages and arguments to win support rather than railroad the government into compliance. This was achieved by positioning the Association’s cause as a ‘winning issue’ in the upcoming state election, instead of condemning and criticising the government as per previous efforts.

BBS also encouraged the association to source data on local hospital waiting lists and a statistical breakdown of Glaucoma and Uveitis sufferers. BBS used this data to localise messages to MPs and candidates, and to create strong media angles for local press releases to gain public attention and empathy among Queensland communities. The data on hospital waiting lists and statistics on Glaucoma and Uveitis sufferers were also used to provide local statistics in information kits distributed to optometrists and potential ‘‘White Knights’’.

Target Policies: 

The target publics included:

·         Optometrists across Queensland – to advocate on behalf of their patients and their medical needs, and as a conduit between the Association and their patients.

·         Vision impaired support groups and other peer groups – to gain support from the ground up and act as ‘White Knights’. These peer groups represent the people that are most impacted by the government’s decision.

·         Media – local, state, metro and regional – to communicate key messages and gain further support from the ground up. The media played a very strong role in forming public opinion and delivering BBS’ key messages to a mass audience.

·         Local State MPs and candidates – the conduit between local Parliament and the community. This audience group has the ability to directly influence Parliament agendas and policy making.

·         State ALP and LNP parties – key influencers and decision makers who ultimately decide to change legislation in support of the Optometrists Association.

·         Glaucoma sufferers and the general public – to gain support from the ground up and to demonstrate the real impact of government decision making.

Communication Strategy: 

The following table provides an outline of the strategic plan:

table
table

Implementation: 

Stage 1: Mobilise Optometrists

BBS developed an information kit that educated optometrists on the issue, the campaign plan and provided a suite of tools to enable individual optometrists to provide local support. The kit included:

·         Campaign overview and background

·         Key messages, talking points and action items

·         Template media release and suggested lines for letters to the editor

·         Contact details for local media outlets (relevant to the geographical area of each optometrist).

BBS also provided further advice and assistance by phone and email for optometrists where necessary.


Stage 2: Mobilise ‘White Knights’

Information and campaign assistance was sent to 41 community groups across metropolitan and regional Queensland. Some of these groups included vision support groups and guide dogs support groups and industry bodies such as Retina Australia.

 

Similar to the information kit for optometrists, ‘‘White Knights’’ were provided with a tailored information kit that educated recipients on the issue, the campaign plan and provided a suite of tools to enable ‘White Knights’ to provide local support.

 

Campaign assistance included template media releases, local statistics, template letters to editors and template letters to local MPs.

 

Stage 3: Media Awareness

·         Prior to the election, background briefings were held with key political and health journalists. This was important to educate the media accurately and to ensure longevity in media interest by involving journalists in the early stages of the campaign.

·         Regional Glaucoma sufferers and optometrists were interviewed in regional media including Rockhampton’s daily Morning Bulletin, Channel Seven News in Brisbane and Mackay, ABC Radio Southern Radio QLD and ABC Northern Radio QLD, and Ipswich’s daily Advertiser.

·         A final media release was developed jointly with the State Government announcing the parties’ commitment in favour of the Optometrists Association. This also received state-wide coverage.

 

Stage 4: Political Lobbying

BBS launched a campaign targeting Queensland Government marginal seats. BBS identified 21 marginal seat targets and four Opposition (LNP) targets. BBS undertook the following lobbying activities:

·         Drafted letters for optometrists to distribute to MPs and candidates using local statistics (see Appendix A for sample)

·         Drafted letters for patients and the general public to distribute to MPs and candidates using local statistics

·         Drafted letters to the editor of local media in target areas

·         Prepared targeted media releases.
table
image

Stage 5: Maintain Momentum

In order to survive the public benefit test, it was essential that politicians heard and acknowledged the community’s voice.

This could only be achieved by presenting community support in the most politically effective way. BBS identified the following issues that were being given priority by the State Government and opposition:

 

·         Rural and regional services

·         Aged care

·         The already over-burdened public health system.

These issues were combined to demonstrate the urgent need for reform by adopting the optometrists’ recommendation. The campaign also emphasised the benefits of reform to everyday Queenslanders and the State’s health system.

To support the campaign, a key message strategy and Q&As were also drafted to provide consistent messaging across all lobbying activities. Key messages focused on:

·         The added pressure on Queensland’s Glaucoma sufferers, particularly the large portion who live in remote and regional areas, to access specialist ophthalmologist services

·         The need for Queenslanders to have the same access to medical treatment as the rest of Australia

·         The high level of competency optometrists have in order to prescribe and administer the Glaucoma and Uveitis medicine

·         The added pressure on the State’s health system because of ‘bureaucracy gone mad’.

 

Results: 

The overall goal was achieved prior to the State Election - BBS’ campaign led to the signed commitment of both ALP and LNP parties to change the legislation upon election, in favour of the position presented by the Optometrists Association of Australia.

 Media coverage

Regional Glaucoma sufferers, optometrists and ’’White Knights’’ were interviewed in regional media including Rockhampton’s daily Morning Bulletin, Channel Seven News in Brisbane and Mackay, ABC Radio Southern Radio QLD and ABC Northern Radio QLD, and Ipswich’s Queensland Times.



Optometrist participation


50 prominent optometrists actively supported the campaign by acting as regional media spokespeople and lobbying government representatives in their regions.

Support was also provided by other members of the association through a range of methods including financial donations and collating support letters from patients.



Political lobbying


Meetings were secured with approximately 100 State candidates by these carefully selected optometrists, representing more than 50% of targeted State MPs and candidates.

 

Evaluation: 

1. Boost the media profile of the issue to raise support from the ‘ground up’

Regional Glaucoma sufferers and optometrists were interviewed in regional media including

Rockhampton’s daily Morning Bulletin, Channel Seven News in Brisbane and Mackay, ABC Radio Southern Radio QLD and ABC Northern Radio QLD, and Ipswich’s daily Advertiser.

 

2. Identify at least 30 external ’’White Knights’’ to act as ambassadors

BBS identified 40 potential ’’White Knights’’ and provided the association with the tools to secure participation.

 

3. Encourage at least 30 prominent Queensland optometrists from varying regions throughout Queensland to actively support the campaign

50 prominent optometrists actively supported the campaign by acting as regional media spokespeople and lobbying government representatives in their regions. Meetings were secured with approximately 100 State candidates by these carefully selected optometrists, representing more than 50% of targeted State MPs and candidates.

Support was also provided by other members of the association through a range of methods including financial donations and collating support letters from patients.

 

4. Encourage the majority of State candidates from all political parties to support the campaign through their policy announcements

BBS’ campaign led to the signed commitment of both ALP and LNP parties to change the regulations pre-election, in favour of the Optometrists Association of Australia.

The overall lobbying program was successful, not only because it achieved its overall goal, but because reinstating optometrists’ power to administer and deliver Glaucoma and Uveitis medication:

· Provided Glaucoma and Uveitis sufferers with a choice to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist

· Enabled regional and rural Glaucoma sufferers to access vital medicine easily and frequently

· Eased the public health waiting list to see an ophthalmologist

· Rebuilt credibility and pubic confidence in the optometry profession

· Empowered optometrists by restoring their power to dictate their own profession

· Reconnected the Optometrists Association with its members and key affiliates, uniting them under

the one cause.