27 May 2021
All improvements recommended in the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman’s (NHPO) Review of confidentiality safeguards for people making notifications about health practitioners have now been implemented or are underway.
‘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 found that Ahpra’s management of confidential and anonymous notifications offered reasonable safeguards for notifiers and was consistent with the practices of other regulators globally.
‘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.’
The NHPO recommendations to strengthen our policies, guidance, communications and systems to further mitigate risk of harm to notifiers have now been implemented.
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. We are 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 this work, we also recognised the importance of procedural fairness for practitioners. Following consultation with professional associations and professional indemnity providers, we have published a new guide for staff to help them manage complaints which may have insufficient detail to allow practitioners to respond meaningfully. We have 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.’
We have made several adjustments to improve the process.
3. Ahpra strengthen guidance for its staff regarding confidentiality safeguards for notifiers.
Topics should include:
New resources have been developed to support and provide guidance to staff and clarify:
Changes made to Ahpra’s database to address the consent requirements for notifier’s information to remain confidential or anonymous.
All notifications staff have received guidance on the changes.
Work to automate reminders when dealing with a confidential notification will be prioritised alongside other system changes as part of a schedule of proposed system enhancements and an ambitious digital enhancement plan. This plan is expected to be completed by June 2022.
6. Ahpra review all existing communications in relation to notifications and make necessary amendments to ensure consistency in messaging about a notifier’s privacy. This messaging should be clear and prominent, and should include:
All relevant communications have been reviewed to ensure consistency and transparency in our messaging to notifiers.
This review included consideration of the information and pathways available to notifiers through our online notification portal, as well as all online guidance and fact sheets that relate to the notifications process.
New guidance for staff on how to identify and flag potential harassment or intimidation of notifiers by a practitioner.
Consulted with the Professions Reference Group, Community Reference Group and professional indemnity providers before making changes to current processes.
Awaiting further advice on potential amendment
*The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory.
Read the NHPO's statement
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