Individuals falsely claiming they are a trained health professional will face possible jail time and harsher financial penalties under national law, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has warned.
The new laws, which came into effect on July 1, carry a maximum jail time of up to three years per offence for anyone prosecuted by AHPRA for falsely claiming to be an Australian registered health practitioner.
The financial penalties have also doubled under the new amendments from $30,000 to $60,000 per offence for an individual and from $60,000 to $120,000 per offence for corporations.
AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said the tougher national sanctions were needed to better protect the public.
“When someone pretends to be a registered health practitioner, they pose a significant risk to the public.
“We don’t hesitate to act when someone is pretending to be a registered practitioner. And from today, I send a message if you claim to be registered when you’re not, you will face serious consequences when you are caught,” Mr Fletcher said.
The penalties also applied to individuals with overseas training only or practitioners who had allowed their registration to expire, Mr Fletcher said.
Under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, it is illegal for untrained individuals to use any of the AHPRA “protected titles” such as medical practitioner, psychologist, chiropractor or dentist. It is also a breach to use symbols or language around your name, if you are untrained, which may infer you are a trained health professional.
AHPRA has also pursued registered health professionals who offered treatments or procedures they were not trained to perform.
Since 2014, AHPRA has prosecuted more than 50 cases of fraudulent practice across Australia.
A recent high-profile case included the successful prosecution of Mr Shyam Acharya who claimed to be the UK-based doctor Dr Sarang Chitale. He was fined $30,000 in a local NSW court and was ordered to pay AHPRA’s legal fees of $22,000.
Similarly this year, Mr David Citer was convicted, for the second time, of falsely claiming to be a registered psychologist. The defendant was convicted and fined $25,000.
“Fake practitioners betray the trust which patients place in them. We want to highlight these outcomes to inform consumers, and health practitioners, on what to watch out for,” Mr Fletcher said.
A spokesperson from AHPRA said investigations were launched into health practitioners when suspicion of fraud was reported by consumers, other regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies.
The new amendments were passed by the Queensland parliament and are applicable in all states and territories, except Western Australia.
Only cases investigated from July this year will be subject to the new penalties.
AHPRA is strongly encouraging all patients to start accessing the online register of practitioners to check if their practitioners are registered.
“The register can assure patients who are considering accessing care from a practitioner, that the practitioner is qualified and required to meet national standards,” Mr Fletcher said.