PSA president Shane Jackson has welcomed the unanimous agreement by the health ministers to change mandatory reporting requirements

At Friday’s COAG Health Council meeting, the state and territory health ministers agreed to remove barriers for registered health professionals to seek appropriate treatment for impairments, including mental health.

“Ministers agreed to a nationally consistent approach to mandatory reporting which will be drafted and proposes exemptions from the reporting of notifiable conduct by treating practitioners (noting Western Australia’s current arrangements are retained) and subject to other jurisdictional formal approval in certain circumstances,” the COAG Health Council’s communique stated.

“The legislation will include strong protection for patents and will remove barriers for registered health professionals to seek appropriate treatment.

“The legislation will specifically include a requirement to report past, present and the risk of future sexual misconduct and a requirement to report current and the risk of future instances of intoxication at work and practice outside of accepted standards.

“Western Australia endorsed continuance of its current approach that has been operational in WA since 2010 for treating health practitioners. Health practitioners in a treating relationship based on the reasonable belief can make a voluntary notification as part of their ethical obligations in relation to any type of misconduct.”

Dr Jackson told the AJP that the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, like other health stakeholder groups, has highlighted the fact that the current mandatory reporting requirements have either been a barrier, or have been perceived as a barrier, to accessing care for a range of health professionals, not just doctors.

“A lot of people are talking in the context of doctors, but this should be seen in the context of all health professionals,” Dr Jackson says.

“The COAG announcement was pretty clear that really, this is about all health professionals being able to seek appropriate treatment for any impairment they may have, including mental health, and shouldn’t see it as a barrier to accessing care.

“Any publicity around this now in the health professions will hopefully reduce any barriers to accessing care that may have been perceived as being in place, and people can access care in a safe, secure way by talking to their treating practitioners.”

Dr Jackson commended doctor groups such as the AMA for their advocacy on the matter.

“It’s opened the door for everyone else, to make sure all health professionals are appropriately supported,” he says. “It’s been a long time coming and I congratulate the Health Minister on the decision.”

Doctor groups also welcomed the announcement, though with some reservations.

“There are concerns about some of the wording in today’s communique, including in regard to the ‘future misconduct’ of health professionals,” said AMA president Dr Michael Gannon.

“It is unreasonable and unworkable to expect treating doctors to predict the future behaviour of any patients, including their colleagues.

“But I am sure we can work through this with the Ministers in the drafting of the legislation.”

RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel said that “the announcement today clarifies that mandatory reporting is not required when a health professional has an impairment. This is great news”.

“However, there remains some questions around the other mandatory reporting requirements, which will require careful consideration in order to get this right.”

Dr Jackson said that from the PSA’s perspective, “we need to make sure that all these things are actually worked through, so they’re supportive”.

“The professions need to be engaged around this legislation; what we don’t want is barriers being perceived to be there, or actually there. So we need to make sure it’s a supportive process that continues to protect the public as well.”

Dr Jackson also welcomed the COAG Health Council’s decision to move towards a national real time monitoring solution for prescription drugs of concern.

“We’ve supported this for a long time, and it’s really good to see a commitment to progress that national real time monitoring system as a federated model, with the jurisdictions responsible for the state systems, but making sure that it feeds into the national solution.

“We need to ensure interoperability and work through all the challenges that might be there, with the state jurisdictions and national focus.”