Health Ministers have made “considerable progress” when it comes to changes to mandatory reporting
The COAG Health Council met on Friday, with health ministers saying they are heading towards consensus on a national approach to a Framework on Mandatory Reporting.
At the Council, they agreed to “progress with a predisposition to a national system that supports the mental health of the health professions whilst protecting patients” which will be considered out of session as a matter of urgency.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters at a doorstop in Canberra that he and State and Territory Health Ministers are hoping to finalise the changes by the end of the year.
“What that would mean is that there would be a standard, which still has to have final agreement between States and Territories and the Commonwealth, but we are looking at ensuring that health workers can seek treatment for mental health in the same way that everybody else can, without fear of being reported for ordinary conditions in relation to mental health,” he said.
“We have to move to a safety-based and public safety-based format, because if we don’t do that, there’s the perverse outcome that the medical professionals, at the very time they may need and want early help, will resist that early help.”
He says that he hopes that by the end of the year, “in the same way that people in all walks of life can currently seek help for anxiety and depression without having that as a stain on their work record, exactly the same standard would be available for medical professionals”.
Safeguards around “toxicity and impairment and misconduct” would still be mandatorily reported.
“There’s a little bit more work to do to finalise those standards, but an enormous breakthrough with great goodwill from all jurisdictions,” he said.
Kay Dunkley, from the Pharmacists’ Support Service, says that currently, there is a lot of fear among pharmacists and other health professionals around seeking help for certain conditions.
“There’s fear about seeking assistance because of the mandatory reporting requirement,” Ms Dunkley told the AJP.
“The bar is quite high, though – it’s just that people don’t understand that, and then there’s concern that it may then prevent them from practising in their chosen health profession.”
The Australian Medical Association has been lobbying to have the West Australian model established nationwide, a stance supported by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.
“In the West Australian model the treating clinician does not have to make a report, and this then protects the health professional seeking assistance, whether they’re a pharmacist or doctor, if they seek treatment for a mental health condition or some other condition that could impact their ability to practise.”
In discussing the PSA’s submission to the COAG Health Council, its president Dr Shane Jackson said recently that “PSA strongly supports access to healthcare for health professionals balanced with public safety”.