AHPRA ‘shocked and appalled’ by GP attack on pharmacist

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Addressing pharmacists’ concerns, the organisation says it will be reviewing its policies and procedures in relation to safeguarding the confidentiality of notifiers

This month AJP reported the story of an Adelaide GP who was found guilty of attempted murder of a pharmacist in October 2017.

A few months earlier, the pharmacist had reported the GP to AHPRA after she noticed he had written scripts for several different individuals for high quantities of diazepam, oxazepam and panadeine forte.

Following her notification and an AHPRA investigation, the Medical Board of Australia decided to place conditions on the GP’s registration restricting to his ability to prescribe Schedule 4 medicines.

These conditions were confirmed in early October.

A few days later, the GP travelled to the pharmacist’s workplace and stabbed at her with a knife, in an action that a judge found was attempted murder.

She survived the attack after she and a customer of the pharmacy fought the doctor off.

Court documents reveal that the pharmacist was told by AHPRA there was scope to indicate whether she was prepared for her name to be disclosed.

AHPRA also told the pharmacist that if she was prepared for her name to be disclosed with her report, this would expedite the referral and it would “carry more weight”.

Accordingly, the pharmacist authorised the release of her name.

During our coverage of the story, our readers shared their concerns about the safety of notifiers, asking why pharmacists not protected when reporting prescribers.

At first AHPRA provided AJP with a short statement saying: “We continue to review our policies and processes in light of relevant findings, including this case” but also highlighting that healthcare practitioners currently have the option to make a notification anonymously.

AHPRA has now responded to these concerns with a full statement, admitting that the “case has shocked and appalled the Medical and Pharmacy Boards of Australia and AHPRA”.

“While this event is exceptionally rare it is clearly very serious. People are asking how this could have happened and, most importantly, what can be done to reduce the risk of something like this ever happening again,” says the regulatory agency in a statement.

“We know that the vast majority of health practitioners have a strong commitment to protecting patients from harm. We strive to ensure that all patients, practitioners and others who raise concerns with us are free from any form of harassment and safe from physical harm.

“Our primary objective is to ensure protection of the public,” AHPRA continues.

“We rely on health practitioners and others telling us when they have a concern about a registered health practitioner who is putting patient safety at risk and which may need us to act.

“We have a legal obligation to ensure our processes are fair and transparent to both the individual making the complaint and the registered health practitioner about whom the concern has been raised.

“For the vast majority of notifications, people agree to be identified in the information we provide to a practitioner so that they can respond to the complaint. This is our preference because it provides everyone involved in the complaint the relevant information and supports an open and fair process.

“In some cases, a notifier may request that we do not provide their identity to the practitioner and we respect this. However, even people making a confidential complaint may still be identifiable to the practitioner because of the nature of the complaint or the supporting information.

“We can – and do – receive anonymous complaints. However, complaints that are received anonymously can be very difficult to investigate because there is no way of following them up with the person raising the concerns,” says AHPRA.

“Our ability to do our job well depends on people telling us about their concerns. We want everyone to be safe when reporting to us for the greater good.”

In response to recent events, the agency has asked the independent National Health Practitioner Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner Ms Richelle McCausland to work with them, “to review our policies and procedures in relation to safeguarding the confidentiality of notifiers and any additional steps we may need to take”.

The review will get underway immediately and AHPRA will publish the findings at its conclusion.

“We will continue to do as much as we are able, as regulators of individual health practitioners, to ensure we protect the public from potential harm. We want it to be safe for people to report their concerns and will continue to review our policies and processes in light of relevant findings, including this latest case,” AHPRA concludes.

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