9 June 2022

Naming and shaming keeps docs ‘on their toes’


That's the Australian Patients Association's view, while doctors say it'll put them at even more risk of self-harm.

The AMA has joined the RACGP in calling for changes to the National Law amendments before they are signed into law, saying the “outing” of doctors under investigation is unjust.  

The legislation is currently sitting with the Queensland parliament, which is the host jurisdiction for national law regarding AHPRA. Once Queensland passes the bill, it gets automatically adopted in every state bar WA, which passes corresponding legislation. 

One of the major changes which could go ahead if the bill passes is that AHPRA could issue public statements about anyone who is the subject of an investigation or disciplinary proceeding while that proceeding is ongoing. 

The decision to issue a public statement will be subject to a show cause process, and doctors are able to appeal to a tribunal.  

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, Australian Patients Association chief executive Stephen Mason welcomed the change on public announcements.  

“It’ll keep some doctors and surgeons on their toes,” he said. 

Doctors and surgeons, for the most part, don’t quite see the proposed changes in the same light as Mr Mason. 

Melbourne GP Dr Mukesh Haikerwal said that the general public tend to underestimate the potential negative impact of a complaint on a clinician, which could extend as far as suicide.

“[Doctors] feel like they’ve got nowhere to turn because the system is so unfair, and sometimes they just end it,” he told The Medical Republic.

The AMA has been particularly scathing.

“The proposal to issue a public statement prior to the completion of an action against a practitioner is unjust and unnecessary,” AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said.  

“AHPRA already has extensive powers to limit a doctor’s practice while a complaint is being dealt with if there is concern about serious risk to the public.” 

Speaking at a public hearing on the bill yesterday, Dr Khorshid said there was “not much love” for AHPRA.  

“The constant state of fear that doctors practise under, waiting for their turn to be next under the AHPRA microscope, weighs heavily across our profession and we are seeing the impacts of this … in tragic outcomes like suicide,” he said. 

Dr Khorshid also said the AMA has not seen any evidence that naming practitioners under investigation would actually improve patient safety.

The RACGP is also calling for the proposal to allow naming and shaming practitioners to be scrapped, citing that it could cause “significant stress and undue reputational damage”.  

“Undergoing an investigation for a complaint can be an extremely stressful and time-consuming process, that can have significant reputational and professional consequences, regardless of whether the practitioner in question is at fault,” RACGP president Adjunct Professor Karen Price said. 

“AHPRA and the National Boards have been working to address existing issues, including inadequate vetting of complaints, lack of communication and transparency, and poor timeliness, and we acknowledge this in our submission. 
“However, many issues remain, and we cannot support laws that allow more actions to be taken before all investigations and appeals processes are complete.” 

If this article caused distress or if you are prompted to reach out for support, these services are available:

Doctors4doctors crisis support hotline: 1300 374 377

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36

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