By Philip Ritchie
Optometry Australia has made a submission regarding proposed amendments to mandatory reporting under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.
The Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council issued a discussion paper, calling for input into potential reforms to mandatory reporting requirements for health professionals.
The council put forward four options for reform in its discussion paper. Each option details how practitioners should report impairment or other forms of notifiable conduct, including sexual misconduct, intoxication, substance abuse and other risks to public safety.
In the National Law, impairment is defined as meaning the person has a physical or mental impairment, disability, condition or disorder that detrimentally affects or is likely to detrimentally affect the person’s capacity to practise the profession
If no mandatory reporting were required, practitioners would still be professionally and ethically obliged to report risky behaviour.
Option 4, Optometry Australia’s preferred option, strikes a balance between protecting professionals and the public. It would exempt mandatory reporting of impairments and require practitioners to report other forms of notifiable conduct only if they are occurring or at risk of recurring.
Optometry Australia’s national clinical policy advisor Simon Hanna attended a consultation forum regarding the National Law last month. ‘By focusing only on current and future actions, Option 4 may boost practitioners’ willingness to report potential health concerns, unlike the other three options,’ he said.
Option 1 requires mandatory reporting for any impairment or other form of notifiable conduct, irrespective of whether it is based on past, current or potential future risks. This option may limit practitioners seeking help, which may result in reduced protection of the public.
Option 2 proposes the opposite to Option 1. It provides an exemption for treating practitioners from the statutory requirements to report any impairment or other notifiable conduct. This is the current model in Western Australia.
‘While practitioners can still make voluntary notifications in accordance with their professional and ethical obligations, Optometry Australia don’t believe this option is optimal,’ Mr Hanna said.
Option 3, unlike Option 4, would require the mandatory reporting of impairment if the action poses a current or future risk of significant harm. There would also be a requirement to report other forms of notifiable conduct, irrespective of whether it is past behaviour or currently occurring.
Optometry Australia’s submission suggested that Option 4 be modified to include the requirement for mandatory reporting of some form of past notifiable behaviour, particularly sexual misconduct. ‘This would serve to evaluate potential risks, given that treating practitioners may not be ideally suited to judge the level of risk for future misconduct,’ Mr Hanna said.
The discussion paper also calls for submissions regarding the state of student reporting. Educators and practitioners currently report students for impairments, but only if they place the public at risk during clinical training. Students may find that changes to the current National Law affect them as well.
Under current National Law, which is reflected in Option 1, treating practitioners must notify the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency for the same impairments as noted in the discussion paper. Problems associated with patient confidentiality, the past-focused risk assessments, and the lack of national consistency, such as the independent laws in Western Australia and Queensland, have led to the review.
With different states operating on their own, a nationally consistent approach could better protect practitioners and the public, and simplify state-hopping for doctors seeking medical help.