Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
 

Immediate action

Immediate action is an interim action that a National Board can take at any time to restrict a health practitioner’s ability to practise if it believes this is necessary to protect the public.

Immediate action process

Receipt of complaint
Risk assessment
Proposed to take immediate action
Submission from practitioner
Decision to take immediate action or not

Taking immediate action is a serious step that a National Board can only take when it forms a reasonable belief there may be a serious risk to people and it is necessary to take action immediately to protect the public.

A National Board can take immediate action by:

  • suspending a practitioner’s or student’s registration
  • imposing a condition on a practitioner’s registration or a student’s registration
  • accepting an undertaking from a practitioner or student, or
  • accepting the surrender of a practitioner’s registration or a student’s registration.

The implications of immediate action taken by a National Board on a health practitioner may be significant, and the public register of health practitioners may be updated to reflect the action taken by the National Board. If you are the subject of an immediate action, you should contact your insurer or legal adviser. You may also choose to contact your professional association.

Further information about support services for registered health practitioners is available on this website.

When a National Board proposes to take immediate action, a ‘show cause’ process is involved. This means that before the National Board decides whether to take immediate action, it must give the health practitioner:

  • notice of the immediate action it is proposing to take, and
  • invite the practitioner to make a submission about the action the Board proposes to take.

A practitioner can choose to provide a submission or to make no submission. If a practitioner wants to make a submission, they can do this in writing or verbally or both. The Board will take into account all of the submissions from the practitioner before making a decision.

The immediate action process can happen very quickly and the timelines for each immediate action process will vary. The process may take a number of days, or as little as a few hours in some circumstances, taking into account the nature of the complaint made or concerns raised, and the risk to public health or safety the National Board perceives at that time. AHPRA and the National Boards encourage practitioners to speak with their insurer or legal adviser as early as possible to help them during this process.

You can find more information about how the process works and what you need to provide in our Guide for practitioners.

The National Board will consider all available and relevant information available to it before deciding whether it needs to take immediate action. This information can include:

  • the practitioner’s submission
  • the notification and any supporting information from the notifier
  • information from any witnesses (such as a patient, colleague or employer)
  • patient records or other clinical information
  • assessor’s reports following a health or performance assessments, and/or
  • information received from a practitioner’s treating health practitioner, supervisor, employer or third parties such as the police, coroner or other relevant entity.

In making a decision to take immediate action, a National Board must consider any submission made by a practitioner and weigh up all of the relevant evidence presented to it.

Each immediate action process will be different depending on the circumstances of that matter. However, as a health practitioner, you can generally expect the following to happen:

  • The National Board receives information suggesting that a practitioner poses a serious risk to people.
  • The Board meets, reviews this information and forms a belief that the practitioner poses a serious risk to people and it needs to take action immediately to protect public health or safety. At this first meeting, the Board is not making a final decision to take immediate action, but is proposing to take immediate action.
  • The Board sends the practitioner a notice. This notice will:
    • explain the Board is proposing to take immediate action and describes the type of immediate action it is proposing 
    • include copies of, or summarises, the information the Board considered before proposing to take immediate action, and 
    • invite the practitioner to a make a submission in a short timeframe (usually a matter of days) or to attend before the Board to make a verbal submission.
  • The National Board meets soon after the due date of the practitioner’s submission.
  • At this meeting, the National Board considers the practitioner’s submission and decides whether to take immediate action. The Board does not need the practitioner to attend this meeting, but the practitioner can choose to attend and make a submission.
  • The practitioner is sent a notice of the Board’s decision. In some jurisdictions, if the practitioner attended the Board’s meeting, the decision might be explained to the practitioner at the end of the meeting.

The decision to take immediate action takes effect either on the date the National Board gives notice of the decision to the practitioner or student, or on the day stated in the notice.

Generally, the practitioner will be given notice of the immediate action on the same day the Board made its decision. The public register will usually be updated with the details of the Board’s decision on the same day or shortly thereafter.

The Board’s decision to take immediate action continues to have effect until:

  • the decision is set aside after an appeal
  • the suspension is revoked by the Board (if the practitioner or student has been suspended)
  • the conditions are removed by the Board (if the practitioner or student has had conditions imposed on their registration), or
  • the Board and the practitioner or student agree to end the undertaking (when the Board has accepted an undertaking).

The following is a list of some of the common issues that are often referred for consideration of immediate action.

Identifying examples of common issues that arise for consideration of immediate action

Allegations or findings of serious criminal conduct Allegations of sexual assault, drug-related offences and any other charges or allegations that could constitute a serious criminal offence (particularly if this relates to a health practitioner’s work/professional practice).
Serious performance issues Successive serious performance failures or an isolated performance incident that suggests a risk to future patients.
Drugs Accusations of stealing drugs from the workplace, drug taking at work, being under the influence of drugs at work, self-administration of scheduled medicines and inappropriate prescribing of schedule medications.
Alcohol Allegations of presenting to work under the influence of alcohol.
Sexual behavior Inappropriate sexual contact (including inappropriate touching or physical examination) or serious boundary violations with a patient.
Theft Stealing drugs from the workplace.
Health Impairments - serious (for example, involuntary admission to hospital under the Mental Health Act) or concerns about memory/behavior.
Breach of conditions A practitioner has conditions on their registration and the conduct/incident described may breach registration conditions.

Written notice is given to the practitioner of the Board’s decision and the reasons for its decision. The National Board must also decide what other action needs to be taken while the immediate action decision is in place. This can include:

  • referring specific issues into investigation 
  • referring specific issues to a health and/or performance assessment 
  • referring specific issues to a health or performance and professional standards panel, and/or 
  • referring specific issues to the responsible tribunal.

The practitioner’s entry on the public register will be updated to reflect the immediate action taken. The National Board will take into consideration the protection of the practitioner’s privacy when deciding whether to update the public register to reflect any immediate action.

At the time it decides to take immediate action, the National Board will also decide what further action needs to be taken because of the issues raised by the immediate action process.

You can appeal many of the decisions of a National Board. A practitioner (or student) who has been suspended, or has a condition imposed on their registration because of immediate action can appeal to a responsible tribunal. Learn more about how you may appeal a Board decision.

A decision by the National Board to accept an undertaking you proffer cannot be appealed. This is because the Board has received and accepted the proposal submitted by the practitioner in the first instance.

The notice given to the practitioner of the decision to take immediate action will set out how a practitioner can appeal a decision to take immediate action.

The National Boards encourage practitioners to seek legal representation or contact their professional indemnity insurer as early as possible to help them if they wish to appeal a decision.

 
 
 
 
Page reviewed 1/09/2016