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05 Dec 2018

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone has given evidence to a Queensland Parliamentary Committee over the mandatory reporting laws in that State.

With AMA Queensland President Dr Dilip Dhupelia beside him, Dr Bartone addressed the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 and told the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee that things had to change.

He said Queensland’s laws should reflect those in Western Australia, where doctors are not automatically reported for seeking health and mental health care.

“I’m here to tell you we are hurting,” Dr Bartone said.

“Outside of Western Australia, doctors do not have the same level of access to health services as the patients they treat. They do not feel they can reach out to talk to their local doctor.

“When they feel stress – and they do, being only human – they have no one to turn to.

“There isn’t a doctor in this country that would tell you the best treatment for a patient who is suffering – mentally or physically – is to ignore it.

“But that is the effect of our national law for doctors. The fear of being reported is just too high.

“Some suffer in silence. Some, I’ve heard, fly to Western Australia, just to see a GP like me.

“The fear treating doctors face is similarly high. The current interpretation of the law means they feel they have to try and ‘guess’ the risk their doctor ‘patient’ may be in the future.

“It’s an unreasonable request. It results in reporting where, in reality, it is not necessary.

“The stigma spreads, and doctors avoid treatment. The problem worsens. The worst happens. It happens to doctors we know.”

Dr Bartone referenced a literature review by mental health organisation Beyondblue, which highlighted that the medical profession is at considerably higher risk of suicide, as well as reporting higher rates of psychological distress and suicidal thinking.

The same Beyondblue report revealed that one of the most common barriers to seeking treatment for a mental health condition was concerns about the impact on their medical registration (34.3 per cent).

Dr Dhupelia said the Queensland model was not working.

“I see doctors who come to see me for their health and I can sense when they are not telling me what they have actually come for,” he said.

“… I want them to come into my room … not feeling like they are coming into a court room.”

Dr Bartone said that in considering a change to a new, nationally consistent model of mandatory reporting, he wanted highlight that the profession has a vastly increased regulatory, compliance and professional conduct apparatus in place, governing the medical sector.

“I know there are concerns about risk being introduced by changing this aspect of the law,” he said.

“All those health practitioners who work with the doctor will not be exempt from reporting any concerns. That will remain, as it does in the current WA model.

“Poor practice is most likely to be witnessed, in the work place – and this proposed change will not impact that being reported. There will still be mandatory reporting occurring. The WA experience shows this.

“Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) annual report figures show that mandatory notifications have risen in Western Australia since the exemption came into effect – from 12 in 2011/12 to 38 in 2017/18.

“A change in the law will not mean that our professional and ethical responsibilities will disappear.

“They remain, we take them seriously, we always will. It just means an exemption for the treating practitioner, for treating health issues, of another practitioner.”

CHRIS JOHNSON


Published: 05 Dec 2018