Fake practitioners face jail and hefty fines as new regulatory powers come into force

01 Jul 2019

From today, the law is getting tougher on people who pretend to be a registered health practitioner.

The penalty for anyone prosecuted by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) under the National Law for these offences now include bigger fines and the prospect of prison time.

AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said the strengthened sanctions better protect the public.

‘All health ministers recognise that penalties need to be tougher for serious cases. When someone pretends to be a registered health practitioner, they pose a significant risk to the public.

‘We don’t hesitate to act when someone is pretending to be a registered practitioner. And from today, I send a message if you claim to be registered when you’re not – you will face serious consequences when you are caught,’ said Mr Fletcher.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) believes the strengthened provisions are a positive move for both the public and practitioners.

‘The public places a great amount of trust in nurses and the work they do. Anyone who falsely claims to be a nurse betrays this trust and must face the consequences. These extended offence provisions are important in further protecting registered professions such as nursing and as another way to ensure patient safety,’ ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said.

AHPRA has successfully prosecuted multiple cases where people were falsely claiming to be registered practitioners when they were not.

Mr Raffaele Di Paolo, was successfully prosecuted in two state courts (Victoria and Queensland) for offences under the National Law, including holding himself out as a medical practitioner and specialist health practitioner, when he was in fact a homeopath. He was fined more than $28,000. Criminal proceedings by the Department of Public Prosecutions in Victoria resulted in Mr Di Paolo being sentenced to nine years and six months in jail.

Another high-profile case involved the successful 2017 prosecution of Mr Shyam Acharya, who claimed to be UK-based doctor Dr Sarang Chitale. Mr Acharya was convicted in a NSW Local Court and fined $30,000, and was ordered to pay AHPRA’s legal costs of $22,000.

Other prosecutions have included people pretending to be physiotherapists, psychologistsdentists and pharmacists. A landmark case involved the conviction of fake nurse Mr Nicholas Crawford, who was ordered to pay more than $40,000 for falsely claiming to be a registered nurse across two states, Queensland and Western Australia. In April this year, Mr David Citer was convicted of claiming to be a registered psychologist and unlawfully using the protected title ‘psychologist’, for a second time. Mr Citer was convicted of offences under the National Law and fined $25,000.

‘We have successfully completed more than 50 prosecutions for offences under the National Law since 2014. Fake practitioners betray the trust which patients place in them. We want to highlight these outcomes to inform consumers, and health practitioners, on what to watch out for,’ Mr Fletcher added.

The amendments mean that offenders will be faced with the possibility of a maximum term of three years imprisonment per offence. They also face an increase in the maximum fines from $30,000 to $60,000 per offence for an individual and from $60,000 to $120,000 per offence for a corporate entity.

‘The public can check the online register of practitioners to see if they are seeing a registered practitioner. The register can assure patients who are considering accessing care from a practitioner, that the practitioner is qualified and required to meet national standards,’ he said.

Find out more about the how to report a criminal offence on the AHPRA website.

Background

  • The amendments were passed in February 2019 by the Queensland Parliament under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Qld) (the Act).
  • The new offence provisions will apply in all states and territories, except Western Australia. The amendments to offence provisions do not apply to the advertising offences under the National Law.
  • Under the National Law, anyone who calls themselves any of the ‘protected titles’, such as ‘chiropractor’, ‘medical practitioner’ or ‘psychologist’, must be registered with the corresponding National Board.
  • It is an offence to use one of the protected titles, and it is also an offence to knowingly or recklessly claim to be a registered practitioner when you’re not or use symbols or language that may lead a reasonable person to believe that an individual is a registered health practitioner or is qualified to practise in a health profession. These offences are known as ‘holding out’.
  • Patients can check the online register of practitioners to see if they are seeing a registered practitioner. The register can assure patients who are considering accessing care from a practitioner, that the practitioner is qualified and required to meet national standards.
  • If they cannot find the practitioner on the register – think twice about going to see them and let AHPRA know on 1300 419 495.

For more information

  • For media enquiries: (03) 8708 9200.
  • Lodge an online enquiry form.
  • For registration enquiries: 1300 419 495 (within Australia) +61 3 9275 9009 (overseas callers).
 
 
Page reviewed 1/07/2019