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The Australian Medical Association, along with its wholly owned publishing subsidiary AMPCo, did its best over the weekends to allay the concerns of Australia’s medical community after plans to outsource production of Australia’s leading medical journal led to the sacking of the editor and the resignation of two senior editors.

As Crikey reported on Friday, AMPCo’s decision to outsource production of the Medical Journal of Australia to Elsevier had been fiercely opposed by its editor-in-chief Stephen Leeder.

Leeder was sacked on Wednesday, and by Friday, deputy editor Dr Tania Janusic had tendered her resignation, as had the medical editor and editor of MJA Insight Ruth Armstrong. Meanwhile, the entirety of the MJA’s editorial board, bar one member, resigned over the issue, saying in a statement over the weekend that its members were resigning as they “could see no point in our continued involvement with this tragedy”.

The editorial board is concerned both about the manner of the changes and the decision to outsource to Elsevier. The letter called on AMPCo to delay the outsourcing decision until “a full and transparent discussion has been had with AMA members”.

But in a letter sent to members over the weekend, the AMA said the outsourcing was necessary, as publishing the journal currently took up nearly a fifth of the AMA’s total income from membership fees. In recent years, the doctors’ lobby continued, the MJA’s position could only be described as “perilous”.

“Last year, approximately 16% of the federal AMA’s total revenue was spent publishing the MJA through AMPCo. This was a total of $2.355 million or about 20% of federal AMA’s income through membership subscriptions.

“The AMA Board believes that we need to ensure that your membership fees are spent prudently. While we absolutely value the MJA and are committed to its success, there was an appreciation that AMPCo needed to address these issues. As a consequence, the AMPCo Board has considered a number of opportunities to ensure that production of the MJA is efficient.”

Much of the outcry about the decision centred has concerned Elsevier itself, given several scandals within its medical publishing division in recent decades. But the AMA assured its members the outsourcing would not affect editorial decisions. “The decision was made after a competitive process during which the AMPCo Board interrogated Elsevier management to satisfy itself about the company and its reputation.”

AMPCo also issued a public statement by chairman Richard Allely, which is available on its website. The statement takes aim at the media coverage around the changes, saying it contains “numerous inaccuracies, and we are deeply concerned that the medical community is receiving misinformation about the rationale and nature of the AMPCo Board’s decision”. The letter states:

“This project is the culmination of an 18-month review of the AMPCo business where it was identified that the process for producing the MJA in-house was extremely costly and inefficient and could be substantially improved. Indeed the future viability of the Journal was at risk, hence it was deemed absolutely necessary to seek operational efficiencies to put the Journal on a sound financial footing.”

Despite the crisis management, Crikey understands significant anger remains among much of the medical community over the decision, as well as the lack of consultation.

AMPCo general manager Jae Redden was previously employed by Elsevier Singapore as south-east Asian regional director, while sales and marketing manager David Kelly has worked for Reed Elsevier, which is the parent company of Elsevier. But AMPCo, through a spokesperson, said this morning that neither Redden or Kelly had been involved in choosing to award the tender to Elsevier.

“David Kelly was not involved in the outsourcing project at all,” the spokesperson said. “As general manager, Jae [Redden] directs the outsourcing project but was not involved in the selection process. In addition, she has never worked with Elsevier Australia who won the tender process.”

Perhaps because of her previous employment at Elsevier, Redden was not involved in the selection process for the outsourcing partner.

“An AMPCo management committee was created to decide on the four companies that were invited to tender for the project and the board agreed with the selection that [Redden] was not a member of,” the spokesperson said.

Peter Fray

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