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13 Apr 2018

Australia’s Health Ministers have made moves towards removing barriers that discourage doctors from seeking help from other doctors about their own mental health.

Federal, State and Territory Health Ministers met in Sydney on April 13 to discuss a range of national health issues, with mandatory reporting high on the agenda.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon addressed the COAG Health Council during the Ministers’ mandatory reporting deliberations.

He subsequently said the meeting’s outcome showed that the Ministers had acknowledged the AMA’s concerns and, with ongoing goodwill, discussion and consultation, could arrive at much better laws than currently exist.

Dr Gannon said the AMA cautiously welcomed the agreed strategy for mandatory reporting laws that emerged from the meeting.

“It is clear that all the Health Ministers are committed to removing barriers from doctors seeking help from other doctors about their mental health or stress-related conditions,” Dr Gannon said directly after the meeting.

“There are concerns about some of the wording in today’s communiqué, 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.

“But I am sure we can work through this with the Ministers in the drafting of the legislation.

“The AMA looks forward to working with the COAG Health Council in getting the wording right in the legislation to ensure that doctors get access to the care and support they need.

“The positive signals in today’s communiqué give us some confidence that acceptable nationally consistent mandatory reporting laws are within reach.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said caring for the mental health of registered health professionals was an important area of agreement reached in the meeting.

“Until now, there have been significant unintended barriers to doctors and nurses seeking the appropriate mental health treatment because of mandatory reporting requirements,” Mr Hunt 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.

“Removing barriers whilst protecting patients with important provisions, to ensure that there is not practice which is detrimental to those patients.

“But it’s critical. It has been developed in conjunction with the medical professionals and the final legislation will be developed in consultation with the States and Territories and medical professionals.

“But at the end of the day, the clear message is the barriers to doctors and nurses accessing mental health are going to be removed. And that’s critical to accessing mental health treatment.”

The mandatory reporting section of the COAG Health Council communiqué reads:

“Today Ministers agreed unanimously to take steps to protect patients and strengthen the law to remove barriers for registered health professionals to seek appropriate treatment for impairments including mental health.

“Ministers agreed to a nationally consistent approach to mandatory reporting which will be drafted and proposes exemptions from the reporting of notifiable conduct by treating practitioners (noting Western Australia’s current arrangements are retained) and subject to other jurisdictional formal approval in certain circumstances.

“The legislation will include strong protection for patients and will remove barriers for registered health professionals to seek appropriate treatment. The legislation will specifically include a requirement to report past, present and the risk of future sexual misconduct and a requirement to report current and the risk of future instances of intoxication at work and practice outside of accepted standards.

“Western Australia endorsed continuance of its current approach that has been operational in WA since 2010 for treating health practitioners. 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.”

CHRIS JOHNSON


Published: 13 Apr 2018