AMA leader at the birth of Medibank



7-7-1911 2-3-2012

SIR Keith Jones, who has died in Sydney, aged 100, had one of the more gratifying moments in an eventful life when, at 98, he received news that the wreck of the Centaur had been found, and with it the final resting place of his brother, Gordon.

The brothers, both medical graduates, had signed up during World War II and the older sibling was offered a cabin on the the hospital ship to spend a few days with Gordon but turned it down.

"I did not think it appropriate that two brothers should be together," Jones said later. "And I got dreadfully seasick."

The Centaur was sunk by the Japanese on May 14, 1943.

Jones went on to serve as the deputy assistant director of medical services in the Lae campaign in New Guinea.

If he had been on that ship on that fateful day in 1943, the tortuous introduction of government-funded medical insurance in Australia, which was to change the face of medicine in the country, would have been much more difficult.

Jones was born at Narrandera, the son of Muriel (nee Rickard) and Stephen Jones, an engineer then engaged in constructing the first irrigation ditches in the Riverina. The family moved to Newcastle and Jones won a scholarship to Newington College in Sydney, where he set junior New South Wales and Australian 440 yards (400 metres) and 880 yards (800 metres) running records. Dux of the school, he enrolled in medicine at Sydney University.

At the 1932 Australian athletics championships, he was in the team that set national records in the 4 x 440 and 4 x 880 yards relays. He would have been a candidate for the 1934 Empire Games and even the 1936 Olympics but the medical profession was too demanding and he retired from running.

Jones did his internships at the Royal Prince Alfred and Western Suburbs hospitals and locums before his father bought him a practice at Pambula.

In 1936, he married an artist, Kathleen Abbott. When World War II began, he signed up and served in New Guinea. He was demobilised in 1944, when Kathleen suffered a serious accident. He looked after her, and their three sons, Stephen, born in 1937, Richard (1941) and Robert (1945).

The family moved to Sydney, where the sons could be educated, and Jones started general practice in Manly. He became an honorary surgeon at Manly Hospital, and chief medical officer for the Civil Defence Organisation. In 1949, he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and in 1955 took rooms in Macquarie Street as a general surgeon.

He tutored in surgery at Sydney University and in 1957 became a fellow of the Australasian College of Surgeons. Appointments to various medical bodies followed, and he became involved in the politics and administration of medicine, helping to found the Medical Benefits Fund and to form the Australian Medical Association (AMA) in 1962. He became the AMA's NSW president.

When the Gorton government introduced the National Health Scheme in 1969, Jones joined a working party that went to Canberra on behalf of the AMA to produce a list of fees on which government benefits would be based. On July 1, 1970, the finalised list caused rage among general practitioners.

Following an extraordinary general meeting of the NSW branch of the AMA and a vote of no confidence, Jones and Dr Munro Alexander tendered their resignations, which the NSW branch would then not accept. "I think they realised they were going to lose their two most experienced men on council," Jones said later.

At the next general meeting of the branch, Alexander lost his position and Jones retained his seat by about five votes. On June 6, 1973, he was elected president. A year later, he was seconded to take up a position as executive officer with the federal branch of the AMA, when the Whitlam government introduced Medibank.

"The AMA decided they would not fight the introduction of Medibank," Jones said. "It has had its ups and downs ever since . . . But it is here for good, and if we had not had it we might now have a form of capitation (standard payments per patient in care) or salaries, as in Britain."

Jones retired from Macquarie Street and the AMA in 1976, but was immediately drawn into a project by Manly Hospital to plan, build and administer a new modern medical and emergency centre, which he then directed for seven years.

He was awarded the Gold Medal, the AMA's highest honour, and in 1980, he was created a Knight Bachelor for his services to medicine and medical administration.

He retired from clinical medicine in 1981, but did consulting work in the medico-legal field. He served on the council of Newington College for 18 years.

His wife, Kathleen, died in 2003 and he kicked on in a retirement home at Bayview, his brain unaffected by progressing years.

He is survived by his sons, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

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