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05 Apr 2016

Health Minister Sussan Ley has asked AHPRA to suggest changes to National Law

The medical workforce watchdog will have the power to inform employers and places of practice of any change in the registration status of doctors under legislative changes being sought by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

Responding to a report critical of its handling of a serious case involving the preventable deaths of several babies, the Agency will gather and share more information regarding doctors under investigation and has asked for changes to its legislation to enable it to disclose more details to employers.

The changes are part of a detailed set of measures intended to address serious shortcomings identified by an investigation into its handling of the Djerriwarrh Health Service scandal, in which 10 babies died in two years – including seven deaths considered to have been avoidable.

AHPRA commissioned consultancy KPMG to examine how its Victorian office handled the matter after it was revealed it took 28 months to investigate a complaint about one of the doctors working at the health service in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria.

The Victorian Health Minister said the case involved a “catastrophic failure” of clinical governance at the health service, and ordered sweeping changes to its management.

For its part, AHPRA admitted that it had “taken longer than it should have” to investigate the complaint made to it about on the health service’s doctors.

In its report, KPMG said the watchdog needed to exercise better risk assessment, to throw more resources at investigating high-risk complaints, to operate with greater transparency, to address perceptions of being “pro-practitioner” and to critically evaluate its performance.

AHPRA accepted all the recommendations, and said that although the review concentrated on the agency’s Victorian operations, many of the changes it was making would apply nationally.

Aside from improving its process to assess high risk cases and speed investigations, the watchdog has detailed measures that will mean greater disclosure of information about matters and people under investigation.

“We are using the National Law more flexibly to improve information sharing with key stakeholders, such as notifiers, employers, [and the] Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS),” AHPRA said.

It said it had adopted a broader definition of employer to improve the gathering and sharing of practitioner employment details where action is to be taken, and was working with DHHS on an agreement setting out what sensitive information can be shared between agencies, and under what circumstances.

In addition, Health Minister Sussan Ley has asked AHPRA to suggest any changes to its legislation it might consider necessary, and it has suggested requiring registered practitioners to inform AHPRA of their employers and places of practice, and to give the regulator the power to “advise employers and places of practice of any changes to their registration status”.

The latest development come after a meeting between AHPRA, the Medical Board of Australia and AMA officials including Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis which discussed more timely investigations, and the need for greater consultation with the medical profession on ways to improve the complaints process both for those making complaints and those subject of notifications.

Adrian Rollins


Published: 05 Apr 2016