Legal changes overturning the ban on patient testimonials and allowing AHPRA to make public warnings about doctors without a tribunal ruling are a step closer after being endorsed by a parliamentary committee.
Under the reforms currently before Queensland Parliament, the regulator would be able to name and shame practitioners even before an investigation is finalised if it reasonably believes “conduct, performance or health” poses a serious risk to public safety.
Already agreed by health ministers, the new laws will be adopted around the rest of Australia if passed.
What form the public notices will take is unclear, although the bill’s explanatory notes do say they “may identify and give warnings or other information about the person and health services provided by them”.
“For example, if an investigation reveals that a practitioner routinely failed to follow sterilisation procedures and potentially exposed patients to an infectious disease, the regulator would be able to notify the community of their potential health risk while also undertaking disciplinary proceedings against the person,” it says.
It stresses any decision to issue a warning will be subject to a show cause process, with practitioners also able to appeal it after the fact before a tribunal.
The bill has already been condemned by medical defence organisations and the AMA, which is warning it will create confusion around advertising rules and add to the “fear and uncertainty” faced by doctors after a complaint.
“The impact of this on the livelihoods, mental health and indeed longevity of practice for doctors cannot be downplayed,” the AMA said in a submission last month.
“The constant state of fear doctors practice under – waiting for their turn to be the next one under the AHPRA microscope weighs heavily across our profession.”
Doctors’ groups have also raised the alarm about provisions which would require practitioners to make a mandatory self-report if they are charged with any offence relating to scheduled medicines, no matter how minor.
However, in its report handed down last week, Queensland’s Parliamentary Health and Environment Committee said the changes were “appropriate”.
“The Committee notes the significant concerns raised by submitters about the impact that issuing a public statement may have on a practitioner, including reputational damage, potential loss of income and employment, and the impact on practitioners’ mental health and wellbeing,” the report said.
“The Committee also acknowledges the impact that these powers may have on practitioners’ rights to procedural fairness and natural justice, given that public statements may be issued prior to the completion of an investigation or any determination of a matter by a tribunal.”
“However, on balance, the Committee considers that the powers are appropriate and will assist AHPRA, National Boards and the Health Ombudsman in protecting and promoting the health and safety of the public.”