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Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency

Immediate action

A National Board has the power to take immediate action at any time, if it believes this is necessary to protect the public. Taking immediate action is a serious step that a Board can only take when it believes that, because of a practitioner’s conduct, performance or health there may be a serious risk to public health and safety, and it is necessary to act to protect the public.

The practitioner is always advised that the National Board is considering taking immediate action and given the opportunity to make submissions to the Board. The timelines for this process vary based on the degree of risk to the community, but the practitioner is always afforded natural justice.

Immediate action means:

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

When a National Board proposes to take immediate action, a ‘show cause’ process is involved. This ensures that there is natural justice for the practitioner. ‘Show cause’ means that a Board gives the practitioner notice that it proposes to take immediate action, and the practitioner has the opportunity to respond to this notice. The National Boards encourage practitioners to seek legal representation through their professional indemnity insurer at this stage.

The Board must take into account any submissions received from the practitioner or their legal representative, before deciding on what action, if any, to take.

There are some common issues that can prompt a National Board to propose immediate action, summarised in table below. The Boards must base their decision to take immediate action on evidence and also consider the credibility of witnesses.

 Category  Example
Police charges Particularly offences relating to a health practitioner’s work/professional practice
Patient outcome A patient has died unexpectedly or a routine operation has had severe adverse outcomes
Drugs Notified by a practitioner, or an independent body. Includes accusations
of self-administering and inappropriate prescribing of illicit or prescription drugs
Alcohol Allegations of presenting to work under the influence
Sexual behaviour Inappropriate touching or professional/sexual boundary violation
Theft Stealing drugs from the workplace
Health Impairments – serious (for example, involuntary admission to hospital
under the Mental Health Act) or concerns about memory/behaviour
Breach of conditions A practitioner has conditions on their registration and the
conduct/incident described may breach registration conditions

Immediately after deciding whether or not to take immediate action, a Board must also decide what further action it considers appropriate. This can include:

  • conducting an investigation
  • seeking a health or performance assessment, or
  • referring a matter directly to a tribunal.

The National Board, through AHPRA, gives written notice to the practitioner and states the reasons for its decision.

The decision to take immediate action takes effect either on the date the notice of a decision by the National Board is given to the practitioner or student, or a later day stated on the notice.

The immediate action decision continues until:

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

Immediate action is a serious matter. If you are the subject of immediate action you should contact your insurer or legal adviser. You may also choose to contact your professional association.

Restrictions on a practitioner’s registration as a result of immediate action are usually published on the register of practitioners. This is not the case with private health information, which is not published.

Many of the decisions of a National Board can be appealed by the practitioner or the student. A decision to suspend a practitioner or student’s registration or impose conditions as a result of immediate action can be appealed to the responsible tribunal. More detail about avenues for appeal and grounds on which appeals can be made is published in the fact sheet on immediate action.

Page reviewed 6/06/2013