4 April 2022

AHPRA inquiry seeks end to mandatory reporting

AHPRA Government Political

A sympathetic committee also recommends that the regulator only accept notifications on clinical issues relating to patient safety.

A Senate inquiry has recommended an overhaul of the notifications process to include limitations on the kind of complaints that AHPRA can receive, measures to avoid supervisory failures, and a call for mandatory reporting requirements to be removed. 

The Senate Community Affairs References Committee had been investigating AHPRA’s administration of health professionals’ registration and notifications. 

The recommendations were addressed primarily to AHPRA and to the 15 national boards that accredit courses of study, set professional standards, register practitioners and manage notifications about practitioners’ conduct. 

Among the 14 recommendations, the committee said the title “surgeon” should be regulated as a matter of priority. This follows an ABC investigation last year into cosmetic surgeons that brought the loose use of the term into the spotlight.  

It also recommends that the National Law be reformed to give AHPRA the discretion to refuse low-risk notifications, which should be referred to health practices and services deal with. Notifications that are accepted by AHPRA and the boards should “limited to clinical issues relating to patient safety”. 

“The committee was deeply concerned and moved by the stories it has heard regarding the devastating impact of a notification on some health practitioners,” its report says.  

“The committee acknowledges that there is a significant amount of stress involved in the notifications process for practitioners. This is unduly exacerbated by a range of issues with the process, including how regulators communicate with parties, a lack of understanding and transparency about the process, and of course, because of protracted timeframes and delays.” 

The committee recommended health ministers agree to remove the current mandatory reporting requirements and adopt the model developed by Western Australia. 

Currently, health professionals and others must notify AHPRA about a doctor’s conduct if it poses a risk to the public, including if they are concerned about the practitioner’s physical or mental impairment, intoxication while practising, or any significant departure from accepted professional standards, including sexual misconduct. 

In WA, health professionals are exempt from these mandatory reporting obligations although they may choose to make a voluntary notification to protect public safety. 

The AMA has been pushing for years for the WA model to be adopted. 

“Doctors are avoiding seeking treatment for their own health concerns, particularly mental health concerns, out of fear of the consequences,” the association said in its submission to the inquiry. “Ironically, current mandatory reporting law put in place to protect the public is actually more likely to expose it to untreated, unwell doctors.” 

The committee also recommended that a notification should only be accepted by AHPRA if it concerned a clinical issue relating to patient safety. Health ministers should consider reforms to enable health practices and services to accept “low risk notifications”, the committee said, while AHPRA and the national boards should be able to refuse them if they fell into that category. 

“The sheer volume of complaints being investigated by AHPRA and the national boards is likely impacting their ability to provide a high-quality service ensuring all parties feel heard and supported,” the RACGP said in its submission to the inquiry. “The current notifications system can be extremely stressful for practitioners. It can have severe impacts on practitioner reputation and mental health, even in circumstances where the practitioner is found to be not at fault.” 

A framework to identify vexatious complaints, introduced following an earlier inquiry, will have helped to reduce AHPRA and the boards’ burden of complaints, the RACGP said. However, since this type of complaint accounts for less than 1% of notifications received, more support was needed, the college said. 

The committee also called on AHPRA to take “urgent and immediate action” regarding supervision of health practitioners. “Supervisors should have a direct point of contact within AHPRA,” the report said, “and this point of contact should be made available prior to any contractual arrangements being made, as well as throughout the entire supervisory period.” 

In their submissions to the inquiry, several organisations raised concerns about the way complaints were processed. 

“Further improvements can be made to the notifications process,” the RACGP said, “particularly in terms of communication, transparency, timeliness and the impacts of the assessment and investigation process on a practitioner’s mental health.” 

The report of the last Senate inquiry into AHPRA, which concluded in 2017,?can be found here, and that of the previous one, which concluded in 2011,?is here

In its response to the release of the inquiry report, AHPRA said the agency would “consider the recommendations directed to AHPRA and national boards and contribute as requested to the formal Australian government response”. 

Community Affairs References Committee report into the Administration of registration and notifications by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and related entities under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law 

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9 Comments on "AHPRA inquiry seeks end to mandatory reporting"

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3 months 17 days ago
AHPRA’s 1% Vexatious Notifications claim is completely false. The study was ‘in house’ with little evidence and previous research studies to support it – so how could this be accurate? I am very surprised that 3 Senate Inquiries accepted this. Good solid Health Practitioners have lost their lives, livelihoods, marriages or left their profession permanently as a result of the enormity of ‘Vexatious Complainants’ and shame which AHPRA fail to assess correctly from the get go. Essentially the complainant is ‘enabled’ by AHPRA with the freedom to throw a match into bushland (many times anonymously) and walk away. There certainly… Read more »
Dr S
Dr S
3 months 16 days ago

Excellent comment and very true

4 months 12 days ago

If I made a VEXATIOUS COMPLAINT against an Electronics Store & published it in the Newspaper, for selling me a Faulty Product, & the Trade Practices Tribunal found my Complaint baseless, I would be sued by that Electronic Store for Damages to its Reputation.
Why should not an INNOCENT Doctor’s Reputation be likewise protected ?
Why should not a COMPERNSATION be given to this INNOCENT Doctor, bearing in mind the INTENSE STRESS the Vexatious Complaint has produced, affecting his own Emotional State & the Negative Impact this has on his/her Family?

Dr Michael Gliksman
4 months 13 days ago

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an AHPRA that obeyed rules of evidence, practiced natural justice and procedural fairness, recognised the existence of and rejected vexatious complaints, and which did not refuse to consider the impact of funding/workplace/administrative actions & inactions in the causal chain of adverse events.
In short, wouldn’t it be nice if we had an AHPRA & State Medical Boards that didn’t function like a Star Chamber under the pretence of protecting the public.

Gino Pecoraro
Gino Pecoraro
4 months 14 days ago
The changes are needed and should improve the situation. BUT What about the harm already done to practitioners until now? There are a number of suicides that have occurred as a direct result of what have been shown to be baseless complaints made to the authority. At the very least, I would hope for acknowledgement that the government got it wrong in not accepting what the profession told them at the time. Had the West Australian model been adopted at the start (as recommended by multiple doctors’ groups) then perhaps some lives may have been saved. Public acknowledgemnet and apology… Read more »
4 months 14 days ago
Further to my reply below, the Australian Health Practitioner Ombudsman has pointed out (Dec 2019) that AHPRA’s ‘system’ of placing heavy weight on a complainant’s request to remain anonymous – simply because the complainant has requested it – makes it easier for complainants to make vexatious complaints about practitioners – and I would say makes it more difficult for the person the subject of the complaint to respond taking into account all factors including context. The ‘system’ of anonymous notifications AHPRA employs needs to be remedied, as the AHPO said that it should. AHPRA in response (June 2020) to AHPO… Read more »