Mandatory reporting changes disappoint

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Queensland’s updated legislation on mandatory reporting has passed, but doctors have expressed concern

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 (Qld) has now been passed by the Queensland Parliament, with amendments including revisions to the mandatory reporting requirements for treating practitioners and an extension of sanctions for statutory offences.

The changes to the National Law are intended to support registered practitioners to seek help for a health issue (including mental health issues), says AHPRA.

They will also increase the penalties (including the introduction of custodial sentences) for offences under the National Law.

Martin Fletcher, AHPRA’s CEO, noted that the changes deal with issues which have been the subject of much debate by both practitioners and the public.

“Mandatory reporting is a very important part of the regulatory tool kit that helps keep patients safe. It has made sure regulators can act quickly to manage risk to the public,” he said.

“Misunderstanding exists about what mandatory reporting means and what it requires practitioners to do.

“We will be seeking to work closely with the professions in planning and implementing an awareness campaign designed to inform practitioners about mandatory reporting and encouraging practitioners to seek help when they need it,” he said.

Mr Fletcher also highlighted the importance of the National Law penalties that reflect the seriousness of people holding themselves out as being a registered health practitioner, when they are not.

“We welcome the strengthening of sanctions for offences, which is great news for patients. Claiming to be a registered health practitioner when you are not is a serious betrayal of trust,” he said.

AHPRA and National Boards say they will now work to implement these amendments over the coming year.

This will require working closely with professional bodies, employers and state and territory health departments to help spread the message that practitioners should be supported to seek help about their health issues.

The passing of the Bill in Queensland marks the second set of legislative amendments to the National Law since the start of the National Scheme in 2010.

When commenced, the amendments will apply in all states and territories except Western Australia, where mandatory reporting requirements will not change.

Doctors have expressed significant concern around mandatory reporting legislation recently, and have called on legislators around the country to adopt the Western Australian model.

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone and Queensland branch president Dr Dilip Dhupelia had written to all Queensland Parliament members urging them to amend the draft legislation before it was passed.

“Today is an historic chance for the Queensland Parliament to take a bipartisan stance and create national laws that will protect doctors and patients, by supporting doctors and medical students to seek the treatment they need, when they need it, without fear of being reported to authorities,” Dr Bartone said.

“When doctors and medical students find themselves needing professional help when they are unwell, often caused by the stressful work they are doing, they can be deterred by national laws that compel their treating doctor to report them to authorities as ‘impaired’.

“This can lead to them fearing that they will spend months, even years, fighting possible

sanctions, including losing their registration, for simply seeking the help that their patients ask for, and receive, every day without judgment or repercussions.

“Doctors and medical students must be accorded the same rights as any other patient

–to be able to receive confidential, high-quality health care without fear of professional ramifications.

“While the fear of ramifications may be perceived, it still remains a palpable barrier to seeking

help for many medical practitioners.

“We are still losing too many

colleagues every year because they do not feel confident that they can seek help without risking their careers.”

The Western Australian Parliament has already acted in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that exempts doctors who are treating other medical practitioners from having to report them to regulatory bodies, Dr Bartone said.

“We support proposed amendments to the current Bill, where doctors would be exempted from reporting their medical practitioner patients, except in cases involving sexual misconduct.”

Pharmacist groups, including the PSA under immediate past president Dr Shane Jackson, have supported change to mandatory reporting requirements.

In 2018, Dr Jackson commended the AMA’s advocacy on the issue, saying it had “opened the door for everyone else, to make sure all health professionals are appropriately supported”.

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