Review of mandatory reporting laws for treating healthcare professionals

On Friday 4 August 2017, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council meeting of Australia’s health ministers unanimously agreed to review mandatory reporting legislation applicable to treating healthcare practitioners in Australia.

The meeting communique stated that Health Ministers agreed that doctors should be able to seek treatment for health issues with confidentiality whilst also preserving the requirement for patient safety.

At present, registered healthcare practitioners and students regulated by the National Law in all states and territories in Australia are subject to mandatory reporting obligations in the case of ‘notifiable conduct’ engaged in by other healthcare practitioners.

The National Law defines ‘notifiable conduct’ in relation to a registered health practitioner to mean, in respect of impairments, a practitioner who places the public at risk of substantial harm in the practitioner’s practice or the profession because the practitioner has an impairment. An impairment is recognised to mean a person who has a physical or mental impairment, disability, condition or disorder (including substance abuse or dependence) that detrimentally affects or is likely to detrimentally affect the person’s capacity to practise the profession.

Western Australia is the only Australian jurisdiction to exempt health practitioners who provide healthcare to other health practitioners.

As there are 14 professions covered under the National Law, the obligation to make a mandatory notification applies to the impairment of all registered practitioners, and not only those in the same health profession as the practitioner making the notification.

Various stakeholders such as Medical Colleges have expressed concern about the current legislation requiring practitioners to report fellow practitioners seeking help regarding a health condition that might affect their work. While protection of the public is vital, there is a perception that the current legislation discourages impaired practitioners from seeking treatment.

According to AHRPA’s 2015/2016 Annual Report published in November 2016, mandatory notifications based on concern that a practitioner had an impairment that was placing the public at risk represented 20.9% as a proportion of the total number of complaints.

The COAG Health Council foreshadowed that a nationally consistent approach ‘will provide confidence to healthcare practitioners that they can feel able to seek treatment for their own health conditions anywhere in Australia’. The Health Ministers also agreed to develop a discussion paper to seek the opinions of consumer and practitioner groups with a view to a detailed proposal being considered at the COAG Health Council in November 2017. For full details, please access the COAG Health Council’s 5 August 2017 Communique.

Meridian’s Health Team has assisted many medical practitioners and other registered healthcare practitioners subject to notifications in respect of impairments or alleged impairments. If you wish to discuss any aspects of this issue, please feel free to contact Principal and author Daniel Davison (Queensland), Marianne Nicolle (Newcastle), Nevena Brown (Sydney) or Kellie Dell’Oro (Melbourne).

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