Professional misconduct in the field of health has never become a big issue in Australia. However, just because it is almost never mentioned in the news does not mean that it does not exist. In fact, research reveals that there is somewhat a small percentage of doctors in the country who have undergone disciplinary action due to professional misconduct.
The research also shows that most of the offences and violations are committed by male doctors and that the most common forms of misconduct are sexual harassment; the illegal or unethical prescription of drugs; and the administration of inappropriate medical care. The disciplined doctors are either removed from service or get restrictions from their practice.
The Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Authority (AHPRA) was established in accordance to the Act of Parliament and the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act of 2009. The Authority is the one primarily responsible in the investigation procedures of health practitioners who have been notified and suspected of committing professional misconduct. The AHPRA also monitors the registration and accreditation of the ten health professions across the country. Moreover, the agency holds a key role in supporting the 15 National Boards in the implementation of the National Accreditation and Registration scheme; thus, it is in charge of all the legal and judicial processes and procedures connected to the health profession.
Some of the health professionals who are part of the country’s healthcare system include Chinese medicine practitioners, dental practitioners, and other medical practitioners. The dental practitioners also include dental therapists, chiropractors, dental hygienists, dental prosthetists, and oral health therapists whilst the medical practitioners include the medical radiation practitioners, nurses, and midwives. There are many other health professions – such as the specialty health professions — that work under and are regulated by the AHPRA.
Anyone can file complaints at the AHPRA, as long as the complaint involves a professional misconduct, which includes issues related to the health and performance of a registered health practitioner. For example, if a health practitioner has been found to have a physical or mental impairment or illness or a disability or disorder that can affect their capacity as a health practitioner, then they can no longer practice their profession in accordance to the sanctions and penalties set by the AHPRA. Another cause of penalty is when a registered health practitioner did not reach the satisfactory level of professional performance required of them. Penalties vary based on the type of complaints and violations obtained by the AHPRA.
Complaints filed at the AHPRA are categorised into three: (1) professional misconduct; (2) unprofessional conduct; and (3) notifiable contact. Professional misconduct refers to an “unsatisfactory professional conduct” that makes a practitioner incompetent within the profession. This happens when one consistently fails to meet or maintain the standards in connection with the practice of the profession. On the other hand, unprofessional conduct is the failure to reach the minimum standards of acceptable and prevailing medical practice, including the failure to prescribe or use drugs, treatment, or other diagnostic procedures. Meanwhile, notifiable conduct refers to the misbehaviour of any registered health practitioner, such as working whilst intoxicated by alcohol or drugs; engaging in sexual misconduct; and placing the public at risk due to impairment. These categories determine the level of violation committed by a registered health professional and the punishment imposed for it.
Initially, the public can send notifications or complaints to the AHPRA when reporting a misbehavior on the performance of a health practitioner. The public can also report a health student.
On the other hand, all health practitioners are expected to report a notifiable conduct, whether they are the employer, a colleague, or an education provider. A registered health practitioner who fails to take part in this may face disciplinary action as set by the National Board.
The filed complaints are handed over to the court and tribunals, which decide on the sanctions that must be taken and the disciplinary actions that must be imposed on the violators. The decision of the court and the tribunal does not depend on the public because decisions are made based on the rules the accused have breached. Moreover, their performance and behaviour will be monitored. The AHPRA publishes the summaries of the complaints they receive from different health professions, so that other practitioners will have an idea on how to practice their profession safely and ethically. This also aids the public in distinguishing the proper versus the improper way of care and in assessing the conduct and performance of the health practitioners who attend to them.
Once the AHPRA has turned over the allegations and complaints to the tribunals and courts, the latter will be in charge of questioning and examining the involved individuals. Tribunals also accept referrals and reviews to better regulate and monitor the registered health practitioners. Referrals are the cases that state the misconduct or misbehavior of a registered practitioner whilst reviews are the cases that have already been decided but are still “appealable.”
As stated in the National Law, two panels are established to decide and work through a complaint or concern. These panels are based on the notification. One is the health panel for issues involving health. Another is the performance and professional standards panel for conduct and performance issues. Even the summary of panel decisions is also posted on their website so that the public can check it.
Issues and allegations in the health industry are always present. Although it is quite uncommon in the health industry, it is good to know that there is an agency that monitors and regulates the conduct and behavior of the country’s health practitioners. People have the right not only to proper medication and health assistance but also to proper care and ethical practice.
If you are a victim of medical malpractice or misconduct, contact our team to discuss your case and obtain legal advice.
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