15 May 2023
Public protection is at the forefront in latest round of reforms to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.
The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2022 will allow Ahpra and the National Boards to warn the public about serious risks posed by individuals, including registered and unregistered practitioners, who are the subject of investigations or disciplinary proceedings.
This will be a power that is used in exceptional circumstances only. There is a very high legal threshold to cross before they can be called upon. Most often it will used to warn the community about dangerous unregistered individuals, rather than currently registered practitioners.
Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher welcomed the reform while noting the significance of the new power.
‘From today, we will be able to warn the public about dangerous individuals and let them know what they need to do if they have been exposed to patient safety risks such as a serious infection control issue,' Mr Fletcher said.
‘We will be using this power sparingly, but in exceptional cases it will help us better protect the public,' he said.
Ahpra and National Boards' existing powers for registered practitioners - called immediate action powers - are almost always effective in preventing further harm. Immediate action can include placing a suspension or conditions on a practitioner’s publicly visible registration. Only in exceptional circumstances when immediate action is not enough to ensure patient safety would we consider issuing a public statement about a registered health practitioner.
The public statement power is part of a package of legal updates designed to support public safety and make the system fairer for notifiers and practitioners. Other updates relate to the assessment and investigation process, including being able to compel practitioners to provide information earlier in the complaints process.
Medical Board of Australia Chair, Dr Anne Tonkin AO said: ‘We always have our eyes fixed on balancing public safety and fairness to all. These legal changes will help us manage complaints more efficiently and improve the regulatory experience of notifiers and practitioners.’
Other changes include broadening the ability of National Boards to share information following a notification to alert third parties to potential harm.
From today, National Boards are able to:
Much like the threshold for issuing public statements, this information sharing will only happen in the most extreme cases where the public is at urgent risk.
The latest reforms build on changes introduced in October 2022, when a new paramount principle was introduced that made public protection, and public confidence in the safety of services provided by registered health practitioners and students, primary considerations in all decision making under the National Scheme.
The changes are being rolled out in phases, so implementation is smooth.