Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Legal action

Legal action

We prosecute people who pretend to be registered health practitioners when they are not. The most serious allegations are decided by independent panels and tribunals.

  • 515 tribunal proceedings (510 notifications, 5 compliance breaches) were ongoing at 30 June, compared with 374 matters last year. National Boards referred more matters to a tribunal, with 344 referrals made this year compared to 180 last year. 
  • 191 tribunal matters were finalised: 
    • 187 matters about 109 practitioners were decided by a tribunal; 98.4% resulted in disciplinary action. 
    • 4 matters were withdrawn or did not proceed to a tribunal because: the practitioner was deceased (1 matter), in 2 cases a Board decided to repeal the decision to refer the matters to the tribunal and in 1 matter the Board decided not to proceed to file the matter in the tribunal. 
    • National Boards continue to appropriately identify the thresholds for referring a matter to a tribunal to protect the public. 
  • 3 matters were decided by panels, all of which resulted in regulatory action. Panels are established by the Boards and include members from the community and relevant health profession. Health panels must include a medical practitioner. 

National Boards refer serious matters to tribunals in each state and territory. Only a tribunal can cancel a practitioner’s registration, disqualify a person from applying for registration for a time or prohibit a person from using a specified title or providing a specified health service. 

We include links to published adverse tribunal (disciplinary) decisions and court outcomes for a practitioner on the Register of practitioners, if the name of the practitioner has not been suppressed by the court or tribunal. 

When a court or tribunal cancels a practitioner’s registration or disqualifies them from applying for registration, or using a specified title, or providing a specified health service, this is recorded in the Register of cancelled practitioners. 

When a tribunal reprimands, suspends or places conditions on the registration of a practitioner, this is recorded in the Register of practitioners.

Matters included findings of professional misconduct involving: 

  • family violence offending and other serious criminal offending 
  • sexual boundary breaches and other general boundary breaches, such as inappropriate relationships with patients 
  • misappropriating or prescribing of ‘peptides’ or other drugs that are at risk of misuse/abuse, for non-therapeutic purposes 
  • failure to comply with conditions imposed on registration by a Board or a panel 
  • inappropriate commentary on social media 
  • dishonest and/or misleading conduct including during an Ahpra investigation and/or at renewal of registration 
  • practising while unregistered and failing to hold appropriate professional indemnity insurance 
  • inadequate clinical management and/or medical mismanagement 
  • issuing vaccination exemptions not in accordance with legislation. 

Significant periods of disqualification were imposed in some matters, including in matters involving: 

  • inappropriate sexual contact and unlawful sexual assault (conviction) and inappropriate sexual comments made to a patient (7.5 years) 
  • failing to comply with conditions imposed on registration, stalking and/or intimidating a female neighbour and conviction of disturbing the public peace (3 years) 
  • misappropriating medication as a pharmacist, failing to hold professional indemnity insurance for a period of time and convictions related to altering a prescription, unlawful possession of Alprazolam, using a Schedule 8 poison for self-administration without prescription and altering records (1 year). 

We published 71 summaries about publicly available court or tribunal decisions. Some decisions are not published for privacy reasons or due to suppression orders applied by the court or tribunal. Other decisions may not be published until the next reporting year, once a tribunal’s full decision and orders have been publicly released.

  • 103 appeals were lodged about decisions made by National Boards.
  • The number of appeals lodged this year was slightly lower than in 2020/21, when there were 106 lodged.
  • The majority were from professions that have a higher number of regulatory decisions, such as medical practitioners (66) and nurses (17).
  • 96 were finalised.
  • 91 were not yet decided at 30 June.

Appeals managed 

  • 35.0% decision to impose or change a condition on a person’s registration or endorsement 
  • 29.1% decision to suspend a person’s registration 
  • 17.5% decision to refuse registration, refuse renewal of registration, or refuse an endorsement on registration 
  • 10.7% decision to refuse to change or remove a condition imposed on a person’s registration, or an undertaking given by the practitioner, or the endorsement of a person’s registration 
  • 7.8% appeals against other decisions

Appeals finalised 

  • 47.9% withdrawn by the appellant and did not proceed, meaning the original decision remained in place 
  • 22.9% original decision substituted with a new decision (21 matters) or the original decision amended (1 matter) 
  • 17.7% dismissed on administrative grounds 
  • 11.5% original decision confirmed

We investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute allegations of criminal offences.

  • 418 criminal offence complaints were received
    • 75.8% related to alleged unlawful use of title and unlawful claims to registration
  • 403 criminal offence complaints were considered and closed
  • 223 open criminal offence complaints were still under review at 30 June
  • 70 new complaints about advertising were considered and managed where advertising was assessed as unlawful – most related to the advertising of corporate entities or unregistered persons
    • 56 complaints were closed

Types of criminal offence

  • Unlawful use of protected titles
  • Unlawful claims that a person is registered
  • Performing a restricted act
  • Unlawful advertising

One way we ensure access to safe, professional healthcare is to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute people alleged to have committed criminal offences under the National Law. Only registered practitioners can use protected titles for their profession. It is also an offence to claim to be qualified to practise in a health profession or hold yourself, or someone else, out as a registered health practitioner. Penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment and/or a $60,000 fine can be imposed on individuals who commit these offences, and fines of up to $120,000 for companies. 

Ahpra successfully prosecuted a number of people found to have committed criminal offences, including: 

  • ‘fake’ practitioners with no relevant formal qualifications, who held themselves out to patients and employers as registered practitioners 
  • practitioners who continued to practise after their registration was suspended by tribunals or a National Board 
  • people who started work as registered practitioners despite failing to complete their university degree, or failing to meet other registration pre-requisites, and therefore were not registered 
  • practitioners who continued to practise after they failed to renew their registration, even after they realised they were not registered. 

The first sentence of imprisonment under the National Law was handed down this year, which demonstrates the seriousness with which the courts view this type of offending. Courts have repeatedly commented that protection of the public is a paramount consideration under the National Law and that people who unlawfully hold themselves out as health practitioners present a real risk to patients. 

Significant prosecutions demonstrate the importance of criminal offence provisions for the protection of the public. 

  • 14 proceedings completed in the courts for offences (including 3 appeals) 
  • 1 matter pending appeal at 30 June. 

Outcomes show that Ahpra continues to identify appropriate thresholds for referring offence complaints for prosecution. 

  • 10 prosecutions resulted in a finding of guilt against the defendant; one case was formally discharged; in one case charges were withdrawn 
  • 6 prosecutions and 1 appeal ongoing at 30 June. 

Offence complaints received 

  • 75.8% title protection offences 
  • 16.7% advertising offences by corporate entities or unregistered persons 
  • 6.7% practice protection offences 
  • 0.7% other offences

Offence complaints open, 30 June 

  • 61.0% title protection offences 
  • 30.5% advertising offences by corporate entities or unregistered persons 
  • 7.2% practice protection offences 
  • 1.3% failing to cooperate with investigators and inspectors
 
 
 
Page reviewed 22/11/2022