Investigating practitioners

A National Board will investigate a practitioner or student if we perceive risks to the public that are significant because of a:

  • single, serious, one off concern that has not been appropriately dealt with,
  • single, serious, one off concern that cannot appropriately be managed without regulatory intervention, or
  • series of concerns that represent that might represent a pattern of behaviour that requires our intervention.

Investigation process

Referral to investigate from assessment, immediate action, health assessment, or performance assessment
 
Investigation undertaken

Expand the links below for more information on investigation.

A National Board may need to investigate following an assessment or the immediate action process.

A National Board also has the power to start an investigation without receiving a concern if it has information that a practitioner poses a risk to patients or the public. This is called an ‘own motion’ investigation.

A National Board might start an ‘own motion’ investigation in different situations, for example:

  • it comes across information that is publicly available about a practitioner (such as a report on television or in the media)
  • an investigation about one practitioner reveals information about another practitioner, or
  • to ensure that a practitioner or student is complying with conditions imposed on their registration or an undertaking given by the practitioner or student to the National Board.

An investigator is appointed to conduct the investigation. The investigator is usually an Ahpra officer or part of a team of Ahpra investigators.

The investigator will speak to you at key stages of the investigation to explain the process so you understand what to expect. They will provide you their contact details. They will answer any questions you have about the process and the investigation. 

Each investigation is different. However, they are all guided by nationally consistent policies, procedures and legal obligations.

For all investigations, the investigator will speak to the notifier, and the practitioner (unless we cannot disclose the investigation). The investigator will explain the information that they need, from who, and why. 

The investigation may be quite general – where we gather general information about a practitioner’s individual nature and places of practice or can be very specific – ascertaining whether or not the events described in the notification(s) occurred and what should happen as a result.

An investigation will consider whether a practitioner has complied with a National Board’s registration standards, codes and guidelines. Ahpra investigators work alongside clinical advisors for the profession to help them understand the context of the concern for the profession and what codes and guidelines (Board and other) need to be considered. 

Most investigations include a case discussion with the practitioner. This is a formal, non-compulsory discussion. Following this discussion, the Ahpra investigator will ask for follow up information to confirm the actions. This may include speaking to a practitioner’s workplace(s) to gather affirming information. 

The level of information we need to gather is more wide ranging when the concerns raised could constitute professional misconduct. This includes boundary violations, criminal and unethical behaviour, and significant departure from acceptable standards. The information required may include:

  • information from the person who raised their concern with the National Board (the notifier)
  • responses and explanations from the practitioner being investigated
  • contents of patient records
  • information or statements from other practitioners who may be involved
  • information or statements from witnesses (for example, family members, other patients or staff members)
  • independent opinions from experts or information from professional bodies
  • police reports, and/or
  • information from other sources such as pharmacy records, health insurers or Medicare Australia. 

The length of the investigation may depend on the complexity of the matter and how long it takes to gain access to the relevant records or information. The National Law requires that investigations happen in a timely way. Reports about the average timeframes for investigations and other statistics can be found on our performance data page.

If you are the person who raised a concern, it may be difficult to investigate the concerns fully if you do not cooperate with the investigation or provide information requested. We will usually gather this information by talking to you over the phone. 

Our preference is to gather this information by discussing things with you. We can then follow up with written information to support these discussions if necessary. This saves us time and allows us to resolve the issue sooner. This improves the experience of our processes for both the notifier and practitioner. 

As part of an investigation, Ahpra investigators have the power to compel you to provide information. This can include documents or details of facts that a person has knowledge of.

After receiving a written notice asking for information, it is an offence under the National Law not to provide that information. In some circumstances, a person can refuse to provide the requested information if that information might incriminate them.

If you are a health practitioner or student who is being investigated, or if you are a practitioner who has been contacted as part of an investigation about another practitioner, failing to cooperate with the investigation or provide information may result in regulatory action being considered against you by the relevant National Board.

At the end of an investigation, the investigator will prepare a report for the National Board containing all of the relevant information collected during the investigation. This includes information about what the practitioner and the health service have done in response to the concerns raised. This report is prepared only for the National Board and is not released to the practitioner or the person who raised the concern.

As a result of an investigation a National Board must decide to:

  • take no further action either because there is no ongoing risk identified, or the actions taken by the practitioner and their workplace are enough to manage future risk, or
  • take action to protect the public, including:
    • impose conditions on a practitioner’s registration 
    • accept an undertaking from the practitioner, and/or 
    • caution the practitioner, or
    • refer to another entity
  • refer to a:
    • health assessment 
    • performance assessment 
    • health panel 
    • performance and professional standards panel, or 
    • tribunal hearing. 

Once the National Board has made a decision as to what action to take in relation to a student or practitioner, the person who raised the concern will be provided with some information as to what action was taken and why this decision was made. This will be done over phone initially and followed up in writing. 

 

Further information 

Find out more about the possible outcomes

 
 
 
Page reviewed 26/11/2020