Keeping practitioners ‘safe from physical harm’

Recommendations on safeguarding the confidentiality of notifiers are imminent from the review conducted in the wake of the attempted murder of a pharmacist

A final report on safeguarding the confidentiality of notifiers is anticipated to be released early next year, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has told AJP in a statement.

In November 2018, an Adelaide GP was found guilty of attempted murder of a pharmacist in October 2017.

The GP had attempted to stab the pharmacist with a knife in her workplace, after she had made a report to AHPRA regarding concerns about his prescribing of high quantities of diazepam, oxazepam and panadeine forte.

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

Court documents reveal 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, readers shared their concerns about the safety of notifiers.

AHPRA responded to the concerns with a full statement, admitting 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,” said the regulatory agency in a statement.

Following this, AHPRA asked the independent National Health Practitioner Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner Ms Richelle McCausland to work with them to review its policies and procedures in relation to safeguarding the confidentiality of notifiers “and any additional steps we may need to take”.

This review began in January 2019, and it was anticipated that a report would be drafted in April/May.

Ms McCausland has now completed a draft report of her review and is finalising her recommendations, a spokesperson for AHPRA has confirmed to AJP.

“We expect that the review will identify a number of opportunities for improvements in our policies and procedures as well as additional steps to safeguard notifier confidentiality,” said the spokesperson.

The comprehensive review involved gathering and reviewing information from AHPRA, including relevant policies and process documents, samples of files involving anonymous or confidential notifications, data on complaints stemming from anonymous or confidential notifications, and interviewing AHPRA staff.

Ms McCausland also met with relevant stakeholders, including other regulatory bodies within the National Scheme, professional indemnity insurance providers, AHPRA’s Community Reference Group, and notifiers and practitioners who have been involved in notification processes.

The review also looked at other organisations both within and outside Australia who handle complaints or concerns about their experiences with anonymous or confidential complaints.

“As previously stated, 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,” said the AHPRA spokesperson in a statement to AJP.

“This is our preference because it provides everyone involved in the complaint the relevant information and supports an open and fair process. However we recognise there are situations where this won’t be appropriate.

“We strive to ensure that all patients, practitioners and others who raise concerns with us are free from any form of harassment and are safe from physical harm.

“We will consider our response to the review and expect the final report to be released, together with AHPRA’s response, early in the new year.”

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