9 November 2018

AMA presses for rethink on mandatory reporting bill

AMA Government Mental Health

The AMA is asking the Queensland Parliament to stand up for better protection of doctors under mandatory reporting laws, saying ministers in national consultations have let the profession down.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone today appealed to a state parliamentary committee which is considering a bill to replace current legislation.

Under COAG processes, the bill will dictate mandatory reporting rules in all states and territories except Western Australia, which has its own legislation.

Despite years of consultations, the new bill did not reflect input from the profession, Dr Bartone said.

“We do not want to see any more doctors or students taking their own lives because they were afraid to seek care,” he said.

“The only evidence that there has been proper consultation with the profession is in the Explanatory Notes for the bill, not in the actual bill. The final bill is the same as before the consultation. This must change.”

Dr Bartone said that medical defence organisations, other medical groups, and other health professions held similar views.

“The onus is now on the Queensland Parliament to prevail where COAG (the Council of Australian Governments) has dithered.”

Other health ministers in COAG must also push for changes, he said.

“They must match their strident stated public concern for doctors’ health with some legislative action rather than hide behind the secrecy of a COAG meeting.”

The AMA favoured the WA model as more “sophisticated and robustly protective” and believed the national law should more closely reflect the protections it offered doctors, he said.

“We need the law to provide confidence and peace of mind to doctors and medical students that they can seek mental health care without fear of reprisal or threat to their medical careers,” Dr Bartone said.

“The bill should also reflect the points that are acknowledged in the Explanatory Notes.”

Queensland’s Health Minister Steven Miles introduced the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 on October 31, but the bill was immediately referred to a committee.

Mr Miles noted there were concerns that practitioners might be discouraged from seeking treatment, particularly for a mental health or drug and alcohol problem.

But he said the bill made “several significant changes” to the way the mandatory reporting requirements apply under the national law, and made it clear that treating doctors should use professional judgment.

“The bill establishes a higher threshold for treating practitioners to make a mandatory report about a practitioner-patient’s impairment, intoxication or practice outside of standards,” Mr Miles said.

“The threshold only requires reporting if there is a ‘substantial risk of harm’ to the public.”

The bill also included guidance about the factors a treating practitioner might consider in deciding whether a practitioner-patient’s impairment would meet the threshold of “substantial risk of harm”, he said.

Mr Miles explained that requirements for reporting of sexual misconduct would be strengthened, including a new requirement to report “risks of future sexual misconduct”.

“This will ensure that if a treating practitioner becomes aware a practitioner-patient is, for example, grooming a child or a patient, they would be required to report the matter to the regulator.”