Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Legal action
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Legal action

Annual report 2022/23

Legal action by or against the National Boards or Ahpra is conducted by Ahpra’s National Legal Practice.

The Legal Practice comprises:

  • Professional Misconduct Unit, which handles tribunal referrals for alleged professional misconduct
  • Panels, Appeals and Advice Unit, which handles appeals against National Board decisions and referrals to panels, and provides general legal advice
  • Criminal Offences Unit, which investigates and prosecutes allegations of criminal offences under the National Law
  • National Information Release Unit, which handles freedom of information requests and other releases of information in accordance with summons, subpoenas etc
  • Corporate Legal, which handles all of Ahpra’s governance and compliance responsibilities as well as advising on all contracts Ahpra enters into
  • Legal Support Service, which provides para-legal and other support to all legal units.

National Boards refer allegations of professional misconduct 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, prohibit a person from using a specified title or prohibit them from providing a specified health service.

The data provided in this section include both the number of individual notifications and the number of affected practitioners or tribunal matters. These are often not the same because one tribunal matter can include multiple notifications. Most commonly, this occurs where there are multiple complaints about the same or similar misconduct of a particular practitioner. A practitioner may also have more than one tribunal referral open at a time.

There were 369 practitioners with open referral matters in tribunals at 30 June, compared with 286 practitioners last year. National Boards referred more practitioners to a tribunal, with 231 practitioners referred this year compared to 214 last year.

During the year, matters regarding 136 practitioners (relating to 223 notifications) were finalised at a tribunal.

  • Matters about 129 practitioners (about 200 notifications) were decided by a tribunal.
    • 98.0% of those practitioners received disciplinary action.

Of those that did not proceed, 7 matters (about 23 notifications) were withdrawn or did not proceed to a tribunal.

  • 3 matters did not proceed because the practitioner was deceased.
  • The remaining 4 did not proceed because:
    • the practitioner was chronically ill to the extent they were unable to participate in proceedings
    • the Board’s referral relied entirely on a conviction made by a district court, and the conviction was set aside by the court after the referral was made
    • the Board became aware of evidentiary issues that were not apparent at the time they decided to refer
    • it was not in the public interest to proceed, noting the practitioner was no longer registered and already had a separate, objectively more serious, tribunal matter ongoing.

National Boards continue to appropriately identify the thresholds for referring a matter to a tribunal to protect the public.

Tribunal decisions

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
  • failing to comply with public health directions relating to COVID-19
  • misappropriating or prescribing of ‘peptides’ or other drugs that are at risk of misuse/abuse, for non-therapeutic purposes
  • inappropriate commentary on social media
  • 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:

  • sexual misconduct against a number of vulnerable female patients (25 years)
  • multiple sexual assaults and acts of incest (conviction) (16 years)
  • cause of serious harm by dangerous driving (conviction), breach of bail conditions, false statements to Ahpra (8 years)
  • failures in conduct and performance while undertaking a clinical governance role (10 years).

We include links to published adverse tribunal (disciplinary) decisions and court outcomes for a practitioner in the Register of practitioners, unless the name of the practitioner has been suppressed by the court or tribunal.

When a court or tribunal cancels a practitioner’s registration or disqualifies them from applying for registration, 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.

Published summaries

We published 61 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.

Ten matters (about 13 notifications) 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.

There were 121 appeals lodged about decisions made by National Boards.

  • This was higher than in 2021/22, when there were 103 lodged.
  • The majority were from professions that have a higher number of regulatory decisions, such as medical practitioners (85) and nurses (20).
  • 140 were finalised.
  • 71 were not yet decided at 30 June.

Nature of decision appealed:

  • 29.3% decision to suspend a person’s registration
  • 26.4% decision to impose or change a condition on a person’s registration or endorsement
  • 16.4% decision to refuse registration, refuse renewal of registration, or refuse an endorsement on registration
  • 7.9% 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
  • 20.0% appeals against other decisions

Outcome of appeals finalised:

  • 43.6% withdrawn by the appellant and did not proceed, meaning the original decision remained in place
  • 25.7% dismissed on administrative grounds
  • 17.1% original decision substituted with a new decision or the original decision amended
  • 13.6% original decision confirmed

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.

These offences include:

  • unlawful use of protected titles
  • unlawful claims that a person is registered
  • performing a restricted act
  • unlawful advertising.

Only registered practitioners can use protected titles for their profession. It is also an offence to falsely 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.

During the year:

  • 442 criminal offence complaints were received.
    • 75.1% related to alleged unlawful use of title and unlawful claims to registration.
  • 485 criminal offence complaints were considered and closed.
  • 180 open criminal offence complaints were still under review at 30 June.
  • 96 new complaints about advertising were considered and managed if advertising was assessed as unlawful – most related to the advertising of corporate entities or unregistered persons.
    • 107 advertising complaints were closed.

Offence complaints received:

  • 75.1% title protection offences
  • 21.7% advertising offences by corporate entities or unregistered persons
  • 2.0% practice protection offences
  • 1.1% other offences

Offence complaints open, 30 June 

  • 66.7% title protection offences
  • 30.0% advertising offences by corporate entities or unregistered persons
  • 2.8% practice protection offences
  • 0.6% failing to cooperate with investigators and inspectors

Criminal prosecutions

In May, Ahpra completed its 100th prosecution since the National Scheme began. This marked a significant milestone in the protection of the public.

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
  • practitioners who continued to practise after surrendering their registration
  • practitioners who continued to practise after they failed to renew their registration, even after they realised they were not registered. 

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

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

  • 8 proceedings were completed in the courts for offences.
    • 6 prosecutions resulted in a finding of guilt against the defendant.
    • In 1 case the defendant left Australia before entering a plea and, while they are not expected to return, a warrant for their arrest has been issued by the court.
    • 1 case was formally dismissed under the Mental Health and Cognitive Impairment Forensic Provisions Act 2020 (NSW).
  • 12 prosecutions were ongoing at 30 June.
Page reviewed 9/11/2023