One of the perceived barriers to health care by impaired health practitioners (outside Western Australia) is the fear of being reported to AHPRA. This particularly affects practitioners with a mental health condition. Mandatory reporting of AHPRA registered practitioners by AHPRA registered practitioners was introduced into National Law in 2010 and there is still widespread confusion as to what the requirements are.
The threshold for reporting to AHPRA is high and its purpose is to keep the public safe, not to punish or discriminate against doctors who are struggling. If a practitioner has an impairment (e.g. a psychiatric illness) but works appropriately, safely, and is managing the condition appropriately, they do not need to be reported under current legislation. The trouble is that this is not well understood by practitioners who are patients or by practitioners who are treating other practitioners.
I facilitate workshops for doctors and other health professionals on mental health and wellbeing on a regular basis. The topic of mandatory reporting comes up nearly every time, even in groups of highly experienced practitioners. It is seen by many as a barrier to seeking help and to providing health (to other practitioners).
In WA, practitioners are not required to make a mandatory notification when their reasonable belief about misconduct or impairment is formed in the course of providing health services to a health practitioner or student. However, there is still an ethical obligation to protect the public and voluntary notifications can be made. This would generally only happen if the risk to patients is high and the health professional is unwilling to self-report.
The mandatory reporting requirements of treating health practitioners is currently under review and the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council has recommended a nationally consistent approach to mandatory reporting, in line with West Australian legislation.
Ministers at the COAG Health Council meeting on 13 April 2018 unanimously agreed to take steps to remove barriers for health practitioners to seek treatment for an impairment, including mental health conditions. Ministers agreed to the drafting of a nationally consistent approach to mandatory reporting.
Watch this space!
In the meantime, PLEASE never make a report to AHPRA without discussing it with your medical indemnity organisation first. They are exempt from mandatory reporting requirements and you can discuss your situation in complete confidence. They will advise you whether your situation meets the threshold and if so, how best to report it.
COAG Health Council Communique 13 April 2018
Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (accessed 31 Dec 2017) Guidelines for mandatory notifications. Available at: http://www.medicalboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Policies/Guidelines-for-mandatory-notifications.aspx
Bird, S. (2016) Mandatory Reporting of Health Practitioners, MDA National Defence Update, Winter 2016. Available at: https://www.mdanational.com.au/~/media/Files/MDAN-Corp/Publications/Defence-Update-Winter-2016.pdf?la=en