Are there certain crimes that should automatically preclude someone from practising as a doctor? And if so, which are they?
These are among the questions being considered in the latest revamp of AHPRA’s criminal history standard, which doctors and other health professionals must pass as a condition of annual registration.
According to a consultation paper released earlier this month, the regulator currently decides these issues on what is essentially a case-by-case basis, guided primarily by the overarching principle of public protection.
This means practitioners are required to inform their relevant board of their entire criminal history prior to registration – including so-called ‘spent’ or historic convictions, and cases resulting in a ‘non-conviction’ – and update the board as soon as they become aware of new charges.
Regulators will then assess suitability for registration depending on the nature and gravity of the offence, sentence imposed, time passed and potential mitigating factors such as age and the individual’s behaviour since.
Cases where the conduct has since been decriminalised, or where there is no uniformity about the particular offence such as with minor marijuana possession, would be given “significantly no less weight, or in some circumstances no weight”, the current guidelines state.
But under the proposed new system, these considerations would be simplified and all offences placed into one of three categories depending on seriousness.
“Our priority has always been to protect the public and make healthcare safer. This review, as part of our greater reform of our approach to sexual boundary notifications, is an important opportunity to ensure healthcare is safe for patients and in-line with community expectations,” said AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher earlier this month.
“We look forward to hearing from patients, the public, practitioners and anyone who wants to share their feedback on the standard, to inform future proposals for change.”
Examples of the new system put forward by the regulator include:
- Category A could include criminal offences that are “incompatible with registration” because they involve such serious disregard for the harm to others and such a significant breach of the trust and confidence placed in registered health practitioners such as murder and serious sexual assault.
- Category B could include offences that “may or may not be incompatible with registration”, something AHPRA says will depend on factors such as whether the individual can demonstrate circumstances to prove there is no longer risk to the public. An example could be theft involving no violence or breach of trust.
- Category C could include offences AHPRA says are unlikely to be relevant to the practice of a health profession, such as minor drug offences, traffic offences, or public nuisance.
AHPRA has stressed that while criminal history checks are standard element of every registration application, only a handful of cases result in any action each year.
For example, it says the national boards 75,543 domestic and international criminal history checks of practitioners and/or applicants in 2021-22.
Of those, 15 applicants were granted registration with restrictions, while six had their application refused.