WA mandatory reporting model ‘will end up saving lives’

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Helen Schultz with Greg Hunt at the event. Image: Helen Schultz via Twitter.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Helen Schultz with Greg Hunt at the event. Image: Helen Schultz via Twitter.

Greg Hunt has foreshadowed the removal of mandatory reporting rules for doctors who have sought help for mental health conditions

For some time the State and Territory Health Ministers have been working towards consensus on a national approach to a Framework on Mandatory Reporting.

Health professional bodies including the PSA and AMA have expressed concerns that mandatory reporting obligations have an unintended consequence: deterring practitioners from seeking help for their own mental health and stress-related conditions.

PSA, for example, made a submission to the COAG Health Council urging it to adopt the West Australian model of mandatory reporting provisions for health professionals including pharmacists.

The WA model exempts treating practitioners from mandatory reporting requirements, except under certain circumstances.

In November, Minister Hunt told reporters that he was hopeful the issue would be resolved by the end of 2017.

Now, Medical Republic reports that Mr Hunt addressed a group of doctors at Frankston Hospital, in his electorate of Flinders, last week and made the announcement that adoption of the WA model is likely be become a reality.

He said that medical practitioners are not exempt from suffering mental illness, instead enduring a higher rate of suicide and mental health conditions than the general public.

“Now that comes about in two ways: one, because of the inherent pressures of the role, two… the barrier that you will all be intensely aware of because of mandatory reporting,” he told the gathering.

“I determined reasonably early on [in his role as Health Minister] that we needed to change mandatory reporting.

“We’ve got a provisional agreement from all of the State and Territory Ministers. Now our next COAG meeting… is focusing on the final form of that.”

He said that stakeholders including AMA president Dr Michael Gannon will address the upcoming COAG meeting of Health Ministers, to discuss “the model that we seem to have agreed on, which is the West Australian model, of non-mandatory reporting, of removing the mandatory reporting, with the exception of misconduct in relation to sexual misconduct, which of course is not something that should be exempt from reporting.”

Mr Hunt said that upon entering the role of Health Minister, he was surprised that the barrier to seeking help existed for health professionals, but not other professionals.

He said that as they stand, the rules would prevent doctors and other health professionals from seeking help.

“I am very hopeful that we will have a fundamental change which will remove the structural barrier, that’s different to the cultural barriers, but it will remove a structural barrier,” he said.

“It will end up saving lives.”

Mr Hunt also told attending doctors about his mother, a nurse at the hospital, and her struggle with bipolar and depression, which had “profound health impacts” on her.

Doctors have taken to social media to express their support for the adoption of the WA model.

However, some have warned that the fight is not over until the model is adopted.


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