‘We want reporting to be safe.’

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Amendments to the National Law could make it an offence to harm, threaten, intimidate or harass a notifier, as changes are made following the attempted murder of a pharmacist

Ahpra has issued a statement saying that all improvements recommended in a review sparked by the 2017 attack were now implemented or underway.

The National Health Practitioner Ombudsman’s (NHPO) Review of confidentiality safeguards for people making notifications about health practitioners found that Ahpra’s management of confidential and anonymous notifications offered reasonable safeguards for notifiers.

It also found the system was consistent with the practices of other regulators around the world.

The review followed the attempted murder, by Adelaide GP Brian Holder, of a pharmacist who had reported him to Ahpra.

The Port Lincoln pharmacist had made the notification after she noticed that he had written prescriptions for several different people, for high quantities of diazepam, oxazepam and Panadeine Forte.

According to court documents, Ahpra had told the pharmacist that if she was prepared for her name to be disclosed with the report, the referral would be expedited and “carry more weight”.

Her name was released, and the Medical Board placed conditions on the GP’s registration.

Dr Holder went to the pharmacy where she worked, approached her with a bunch of flowers, and then attempted to stab her with a 15cm fishing knife. He was found guilty of attempted murder in late 2018, and sentenced to 15 years’ jail with a non-parole period of 10 years.

“While acts of violence against notifiers are rare, this experience threw a necessary spotlight on whether Ahpra’s handling of notifications adequately safeguards the confidentiality of notifiers,” noted the Ombudsman in a statement Thursday.

The review found that Ahpra’s management of confidential and anonymous notifications offered reasonable safeguards for notifiers. It also made a number of recommendations.

“We want reporting to be safe for all notifiers, which is why we asked the Ombudsman to review our processes to ensure that anyone who raises a concern about a registered health practitioner with us, feels safe to do so,” said Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher.

“The review made 10 practical recommendations for strengthening the protection of notifiers while recognising the importance of fairness for health practitioners who are the subject of a notification,” Mr Fletcher said.

“I’m pleased to say that as we come up to the 12-month mark from the release of our response, the majority of recommendations have now been implemented.”

These include:

  • updating relevant policies to reflect that possible confidentiality safeguards for the notifier will be considered when assessing each new notification
  • publishing an updated privacy policy and collection statement to clarify how personal information will be used and disclosed, and
  • providing new guidance to staff about how to safeguard confidentiality, including in relation to redacting a notifier’s information and sharing a notifier’s information with the relevant practitioner.

Ahpra advised that work is also underway to introduce automated prompts to remind staff of a notifier’s confidential status, with this work scheduled to be completed by June 2022.

The regulator says it is waiting on further advice from Health Ministers on introducing amendments to the National Law that would make it an offence to harm, threaten, intimidate or harass a notifier.

In response to the update, Ombudsman and Commissioner Richelle McCausland said, ‘I am pleased that Ahpra and the Boards have taken significant steps to strengthen and communicate the safeguards available to those who make a notification”.

As part of its work, Ahpra says it also recognised the importance of procedural fairness for practitioners. 

Following consultation with professional associations and professional indemnity providers, it has published a new guide for staff to help them manage complaints which may have insufficient detail to allow practitioners to respond meaningfully.

It has also published a vexatious notifications framework and introduced new training for staff in how to identify and manage vexatious complaints.

“It’s important that both the community and practitioners have trust and confidence in our notifications process,” Mr Fletcher said.

“People need to feel safe to raise a concern, and practitioners need to trust that they will be treated fairly when a concern is raised about them.

“This is fundamental to a healthy and trusted regulatory system and how we help keep the public safe.”

The 10 recommendations can be viewed here.

The report can be viewed here.

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1 Comment

  1. Youhana Younan

    For the safety of the notifier , her name shouldn’t have been released to the GP

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