Changes to mandatory reporting rules underway

The AMA’s advocacy for changes to the current rules could potentially have a positive impact for pharmacists

Federal, State and Territory health ministers have agreed to consult with practitioner and consumer groups to develop a nationally consistent proposal for mandatory reporting provisions at the next COAG meeting this November, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has confirmed.

The AMA has been lobbying governments for months, advocating for health practitioners to be exempted from mandatory reporting requirements.

Under current AHPRA rules, notifiable conduct by registered health practitioners includes “placing the public at risk of substantial harm because of an impairment (health issue)”.

While the intent of the legislation was to ensure protection of the public by requiring health practitioners to report colleagues whose health was impaired, it has created a barrier for those who need help in relation to mental illness, argues AMA President Dr Michael Gannon.

“Mandatory reporting undermines the health and wellbeing of doctors,” says Dr Gannon.

“It is a tragic reality that doctors are at greater risk of suicidal ideation and death by suicide. This year we have lost several colleagues to suicide.

“The AMA has identified that mandatory reporting is a major barrier to doctors accessing the care they need.”

But how do AHPRA’s mandatory reporting provisions impact pharmacists?

“Mandatory reporting does potentially create a barrier to pharmacists seeking medical treatment and the existence of mandatory reporting can create a lack of trust between a pharmacist and their treating clinician,” says Kay Dunkley, Executive Officer of the Pharmacists’ Support Service.

“However there is a lot of misunderstanding about the mandatory reporting requirements and the threshold for reporting is actually quite high.

“But this misunderstanding has caused problems as it creates fear and uncertainty for those who may be reported and those who feel obliged to make a report.”

Ms Dunkley says mandatory reporting conditions should be developed in a way that supports health professionals who seek treatment for health conditions.

“Mandatory reporting is important to protect the public from impaired practitioners but at the same time it should not be a deterrent to health professionals seeking treatment for their own medical conditions.”

“I have heard of a case where a pharmacist was inappropriately reported and this caused them great distress for several months until their name was cleared.

“Until we know the detail of the changes to the legislation it hard to say if it will benefit pharmacists but hopefully treating practitioners may be exempt in order to encourage help-seeking behaviour for those who are at risk of becoming impaired.”

PSA National President Dr Shane Jackson says pharmacists are just as vulnerable as other healthcare practitioners when it comes to workplace stress, and should be considered as part of any mandatory reporting changes.

“Pharmacists have similar levels of psychological distress and workplace issues as doctors and nurses,” Dr Jackson tells AJP.

“Therefore, moves to change mandatory reporting to allow pharmacists to access care without fear of being reported are welcomed – as this is about helping people most in need.

“PSA supports mandatory reporting, but we don’t support mandatory reporting when it gets in the way of a health practitioner receiving treatment, or where it creates fear of being reported – this is counter-productive,” he says.

Dr Jackson adds that the PSA is “fully supportive” of possible changes to current mandatory reporting provisions, and acknowledged the AMA for leading the charge on behalf of doctors, “which will benefit all health professionals”.

Pharmacists who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910 (8am to 11pm daily).  For urgent assistance outside these hours, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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