The AMA says health ministers appear to have ignored its proposals for mandatory reporting reform in favour of a “second-best solution” that could endanger doctors’ lives.
The peak medical group is raising the alarm in a last-ditch bid to influence legislation due to be introduced in the Queensland Parliament this week on rules for reporting of doctors who seek medical treatment.
This follows an agreement on the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Amendment (Tranche 1A) Bill, by ministers at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG Health Council on October 12.
“The AMA and other stakeholders have not been provided with the contents of the bill, but it is feared that amendments sought by the AMA and many others were ignored by the COAG Health Council,” the AMA said today.
The AMA amendments were a “minimum requirement” since the ministers refused to adopt the Western Australian laws, which would remain in place regardless of the COAG action, it said.
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said he could not understand why the COAG Health Council did not adopt the AMA recommendations and evidence in framing the new laws.
“Our fear is that the bill going before the Queensland Parliament will stop doctors seeking healthcare when they need it,” Dr Bartone said.
“We fear that this bill will not stop doctor suicides.”
The AMA had consistently emphasised to COAG ministers how the West Australian model operated successfully to provide access to health services for doctors, while safeguarding public safety, he said.
“We have highlighted how the AMA’s preferred so-called ‘WA lite’ model could do the same across the country.”
The new national laws needed to give doctors confidence to seek help for their own health needs, Dr Bartone said, adding that regulations to protect doctors’ health also protected patients.
“Mandatory reporting affects every doctor, their families, their loved ones, their colleagues …and their patients,” Dr Bartone said.
“Our doctors desperately need legislation that does not actively discourage them from seeking medical treatment when they need it. Doctors are patients too. They should have the same rights to access confidential high-quality medical treatment as their own patients and all other Australians do.
“We urgently need a nationally consistent approach to mandatory reporting provisions. It will provide confidence to doctors. It will enable and empower them to seek treatment for their own health conditions anywhere in Australia.
“The AMA has worked for many years, in good faith, at both the state/territory and federal level, to highlight how sensible and practical amendments could and should be made to address this issue.”
Originally adopted to protect the public from unsafe doctors, the current mandatory reporting provisions are widely believed to deter doctors from seeking medical help for mental health or addiction issues.
They are also blamed as a factor in high suicide rates among Australian health professionals.
In practice, the rules are being interpreted as requiring a doctor who is treating another doctor who they believe to be in some way impaired, to report that doctor to AHPRA, the AMA said in its submission to COAG.
“Then begins an opaque and clumsy investigation period where the livelihood of the doctor in question is put at risk while their stress and anxiety, naturally, continues to worsen.”
The AMA favours the WA model, which provides an exemption so that a treating doctor does not have to report a colleague under treatment except in cases of sexual misconduct.
It pointed out there was no evidence to suggest that the WA exemption has had a detrimental impact on public safety in that state and the exemption did not impinge on clinicians’ duty to report doctors who may pose a risk to the public.
In addition, research showed that 92% of mandatory reports of doctors was initiated by colleagues and employers, and would not be affected by a modified rule.