Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Landmark public protection reform bill passes parliament

Landmark public protection reform bill passes parliament

13 Oct 2022

In the widest-ranging reform to health practitioner regulation since the National Scheme was established in 2010, the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 (the Bill) was passed by the Queensland parliament today. The Bill is expected to achieve assent later this month.

Key points
  • The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 (the Bill) was passed by Queensland Parliament today.
  • The Bill contains over 30 wide-ranging reforms focused on public safety, including recognising cultural safety as a guiding principle and objective of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (National Law).
  • The reforms respond to various independent reviews into the operation and governance of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (National Scheme) and follow multiple rounds of jurisdiction-led stakeholder consultation.

Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher welcomed the reforms with their strong focus on public protection.

‘It’s especially pleasing to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety at the heart of the reforms.

‘Ahpra and the National Boards are committed to a health system that is both culturally safe and free from racism. Recognising cultural safety as a guiding principle and objective of the National Law places this at the heart of our work,’ Mr Fletcher said.

Read the Joint Statement by Ahpra, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Group and the National Health Leadership Forum.

New paramount principle puts public safety at the heart of regulatory decision making

In 2019, Australian Health Ministers requested the priority reforms contained in the Bill, including a new paramount principle which makes protection of the public, and public confidence in the safety of services provided by registered health practitioners and students, paramount considerations in all decision-making under the National Scheme. Co-convenor, Forum of NRAS Chairs Brett Simmonds said the new paramount principle more clearly articulates the focus Ahpra and the National Boards have always had on public safety in regulatory decision making.

‘We have always worked to keep the public safe through effective, efficient, risk-based regulation. 

‘The reforms now confirm that commitment in law,’ Mr Simmonds said.

New powers strengthen public protection

The Bill also introduces new powers for Ahpra and National Boards, which strengthen public protection while maintaining fairness for practitioners.

These significant reforms include:

  • a new power to issue interim prohibition orders against unregistered practitioners which means Ahpra and National Boards can stop significant harm occurring while the most serious matters are investigated, and
  • the power to issue public statements to warn the public about risks posed by people, including registered practitioners, who are the subject of investigations or disciplinary proceedings.

‘We know there has been some concern about “naming and shaming” of doctors in relation to the issuing of public statements,’ Medical Board of Australia Chair Dr Anne Tonkin said. ‘I would like to reassure the medical community that this power will only be used rarely, and only when there is a serious unmanaged risk to public health and safety.’

These new powers will have a delayed start, allowing Ahpra time to engage further with stakeholders on implementation before governments finalise when the changes will commence.

Increased penalties for advertising breaches

The maximum penalty for advertising breaches has increased, from $5,000 to $60,000 for individuals and from $10,000 to $120,000 for body corporates. This reflects the serious risk that false and misleading advertising can cause harm to the public if it results in poorly informed and unsafe healthcare choices.

Following the recent independent review into cosmetic surgery, the ban on testimonials remains in place.

Reforms respond to review recommendations

The reforms respond to recommendations from various independent reviews into National Scheme over recent years, including the:

  • Independent review of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions
  • review of governance of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme, and
  • Independent review of accreditation systems within the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions.

Ahpra Board Chair, Ms Gill Callister PSM said, ‘The National Scheme is a vital part of a system of safeguards for Australia’s health workforce. After over 12 years of operation and responding to recommendations from several reviews, these practical amendments will ensure the scheme remains fit to meet the challenge of regulating Australia’s health practitioners.’

The reforms also reflect extensive consultation with stakeholders, led by jurisdictions before the Bill was finalised and introduced into Queensland Parliament. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill (pages 26 to 31) provide a summary of the consultation.

Implementing the reforms

Ahpra and National Boards have begun the considerable work to implement the reforms. To support the rollout, some changes start on assent of the Bill (typically seven to ten days after the Bill passes) while others have a delayed start to be decided by governments on proclamation (up to 12 months from the passing of the Bill). This is to ensure the necessary updates to systems, policies, and procedures are in place.

More information

  • Resources including an information guide and answers to frequently asked questions are available on the National Law amendments page on the Ahpra website.
  • For media inquiries (03) 8708 9200

1The Queensland Parliament is the host jurisdiction for the National Law. This means now that the Amendment Bill has been passed in Queensland Parliament the changes will automatically apply in most states and territories after assent. We anticipate Western Australia Parliament will introduce a corresponding Amendment Bill into their Parliament. South Australia and New South Wales will make a regulation to confirm application of the amendments in their states.

 

 
 
Page reviewed 13/10/2022