Medical groups have cautiously welcomed a government decision to ease the mandatory reporting rules that deter doctors from seeking help from other doctors about mental health or stress-related conditions.
State and territory health ministers formally agreed agreed to develop a nationally consistent approach that will exempt the reporting of certain types of notifiable conduct by doctors treating other doctors.
However a communique from COAG Health Council meeting on 13 April said new legislation would include a mandatory requirement to report past, present and the risk of future sexual misconduct and current and future risk of intoxication at work and practice outside of accepted standards.
“Health practitioners in a treating relationship based on the reasonable belief can make a voluntary notification as part of their ethical obligations in relation to any type of misconduct,” it stated.
The move comes after protracted campaigning by doctors’ groups who raised concerns that mandatory reporting rules were preventing doctors from getting the help they needed due to fears of generating a report to AHPRA that could have disastrous consequences for their career.
Announcing the agreement, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the changes would address the “significant unintended barriers to doctors and nurses seeking the appropriate mental health treatment”. The new legislation will be drafted with input from the medical community, he said.
“What has been agreed is a system that will both protect patients, but critically, remove barriers to doctors and nurses receiving and accessing the mental health treatment that they want,” he said.
AMA president Dr Michael Gannon, who addressed the COAG meeting on 13 April, said the “positive signals in today’s communique give us some confidence that acceptable nationally consistent mandatory reporting laws are within reach”.
But the AMA has lingering concerns over some of the wording in the communique, he said, including in regard to the ‘future misconduct’ of health professionals.
“It is unreasonable and unworkable to expect treating doctors to predict the future behaviour of any patients, including their colleagues,” Dr Gannon said.
“But I am sure we can work through this with the Ministers in the drafting of the legislation.”