30 Nov 2023
A Sunshine Coast woman, who has never been registered as a psychologist, claimed to be a psychologist when she started providing services for a local psychology clinic during 2021. She was today fined when she pleaded guilty before the Maroochydore Magistrate’s Court to three counts of holding herself out as a registered psychologist.
While the defendant held some formal qualifications, they were not of a kind that made her eligible for registration as a psychologist under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law). This registration is required to practise as a psychologist in Australia.
Ahpra and the Psychology Board of Australia work together to protect the public by ensuring that only registered health practitioners who are suitably qualified and fit to practise can claim to be registered or qualified to practise as psychologists.
In June 2021 the woman described herself as a registered psychologist and was appointed as a psychologist for a local psychology service under a contract that required her to be registered. Between 14 June 2021 and 7 January 2022, she provided psychological services to six clients including vulnerable patients and children referred under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
After concerns were raised with the Office of the Health Ombudsman, the woman was asked to provide evidence of her registration. In response she provided a registration number that belonged to an unrelated genuinely registered practitioner whose surname happened to be the same as the woman’s maiden name.
The defendant’s contract was terminated when it was confirmed that she was not in fact registered.
Ahpra charged the defendant with three counts of holding herself out as being registered in breach of section 116 of the National Law. She pleaded guilty at the first opportunity on 30 November 2023, and was sentenced at the Maroochydore Magistrates’ Court of Queensland by His Honour Magistrate Stjernqvist to a fine of $8,500 with no conviction recorded. She was also ordered to pay Ahpra $1,750 in legal costs.
Ahpra CEO, Mr Martin Fletcher, said: ‘Falsely claiming to be a registered psychologist is a serious offence and we will not hesitate to act. This is the second case this year in which Ahpra has prosecuted a fake psychologist which highlights that employers need to check both the registration status and identity when employing a psychologist.’
Chair of the Psychology Board of Australia, Rachel Phillips, said: ‘The Board urge employers to be thorough when employing or contracting a registered psychologist. It’s necessary to check both registration and identity. The public register confirms the person is registered to practise, verifying identity confirms the person is who they say they are. Both steps are necessary for a robust process.’
Ahpra keeps a public register of every health practitioner who is registered to practise in Australia in the 16 health professions regulated under the National Law, including psychologists. Employers are encouraged to check the register online to verify the registration of their staff before they begin working, and regularly throughout employment to ensure their staff maintain their registration. It is also important to ensure that employers take all reasonable steps to verify the identity of staff. Ahpra is seeing an increase in complaints about individuals who are providing their employers the registration details of genuinely registered practitioners with the same or similar name.