Hair testing for practitioners with substance-related impairment

hair testing: scissors snip lock of blonde hair

Mandatory hair testing will be routine for all registered health practitioners with substance-related impairment, under a screening protocol to be introduced by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the National Boards.

Under the protocol, all health practitioners who have restrictions on their registration linked to past substance abuse will have routine hair testing in addition to urine testing.

Routine hair testing helps provide comprehensive information about the use – over time – of a wide range of drugs (not just based on the practitioner’s drug taking history).

AHPRA CEO, Martin Fletcher, says the protocol provides a clear framework across professions for AHPRA’s advice to National Boards about the management of registered practitioners with drug related impairment.

“It will make sure drug screening in the National Scheme is evidence-based, effective and up to date,” he says.

National Boards will continue to make decisions about individual practitioners with impairment case by case, based on testing standards set out in the protocol. This includes:

  • nationally consistent threshold limits, so all pathology providers conducting the tests use consistent testing baselines (e.g. will report all positive alcohol readings over 30pg/mg in hair);
  • agreed ‘critical events’ – in addition to positive test results – requiring action and follow up (e.g. unexplained delayed screening tests or results, failure to attend screening, diluted or unsuitable samples etc); and
  • agreed triggers for National Boards to consider disciplinary action (e.g. positive test results, non-compliance with screening requirements etc).

AHPRA has established an expert panel to provide ongoing advice on the biological assessment, testing and monitoring of applicants and registrants with drug and/or alcohol misuse, including impairment.

The panel includes Professor Olaf Drummer, Professor Jenny Martin and Dr Robert Ali. Terms of Reference for the panel are published on the Expert Panel on Drug and Alcohol Screening page on the AHPRA website.

AHPRA is now seeking expressions of interest from pathology providers to provide drug-screening services to AHPRA to support ongoing monitoring of practitioners known to have drug related impairment.

The drug screening protocol is part of a wider, national strategy to effectively manage compliance and monitoring across the National Scheme. The strategy, progressively implemented from July 2014:

  • applies to AHPRA’s management, on behalf of National Boards, of all registered health practitioners with limitations on their registration related to health, conduct, performance or registration;
  • includes structural change, with the appointment of a national director, compliance and monitoring; and
  • ensures coordination across all states and territories of AHPRA’s compliance and monitoring program.

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