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By Vinay Pandaram
Senior Claims Manager, Medico Legal Adviser
Avant Mutual Group Limited

 

A 27-year-old male clinician, driving home on a lone stretch of highway late at night, was pulled over by police.

Following a preliminary assessment of the driver, a roadside screening test confirmed the presence of illicit substances. The clinician was later charged by the police for a drug-driving offence.

Avant often assists health care professionals with their reporting obligations to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (the National Law), all registered health care practitioners or students must inform the Optometry Board of Australia (the Board) within seven days of becoming aware of a “relevant event or change in status” in relation to events outlined below.

Notifiable events

Health professionals need to be clear on their legal obligations to report an event under the National Law. You need to tell AHPRA when:

  • you have been charged with an offence punishable by 12 months’ imprisonment or more
  • you have been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment
  • you no longer have professional indemnity insurance, as required by the registration standard set by your national board
  • your right to practice at a hospital or health service has been withdrawn or restricted
  • your Medicare billing privileges have been restricted
  • your authority to administer, obtain, possess, prescribe, sell, supply or use a scheduled medicine or class of scheduled medicines has been cancelled or restricted
  • a complaint has been made about you to an organisation that provides health services, or to another organisation as detailed under the National Law
  • your registration as a healthcare practitioner in another country has been restricted, suspended or cancelled.

If you are a student, you need to tell AHPRA when:

  • you have been charged with an offence punishable by 12 months’ imprisonment or more
  • you have been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment
  • your registration as a student in a health profession in another country outside Australia has been suspended or cancelled.

In the scenario above, the optometrist would be required to notify AHPRA, irrespective of whether or not he avoided a criminal conviction for the charges brought against him. This has no bearing on his obligation to notify AHPRA.

Disciplinary action for failure to report

AHPRA has warned that a failure to report any of the events outlined above could result in conduct or performance action being taken against the health professional.

In a recent case, the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal found a psychiatrist who engaged in systemic overcharging of patients, guilty of professional misconduct. In this case, the psychiatrist was originally sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for nine months, and fined $5,000. The tribunal considered that the psychiatrist had a clear and simple obligation to notify AHPRA.

The tribunal also found the psychiatrist guilty of unprofessional conduct for failing to advise the Medical Board of Australia that his clinical privileges at the clinic had been suspended, as required under the National Law. The tribunal considered the doctor’s explanation, for failing to notify, was not credible. The tribunal stated he was “a mature aged, highly experienced specialist who bears a responsibility for knowing and acting upon such obligations, where required”.

The notification process

Following notification to AHPRA of the event, AHPRA will refer the notification to the relevant state’s complaints bodies to enable them to assess any risk to the public your conduct has caused. They may ask you for more information to enable them to consider any regulatory action that may be appropriate in the circumstances. Any action will ultimately be based on their assessment of the risk to public safety your conduct caused. At the completion of this process, they may decide to:

  • take no further regulatory action
  • restrict your registration in some way, through conditions
  • suspend your registration for a period of time while they gather more information
  • refer your case to the state’s complaints body for further investigation if it raises a serious issue of risk to the public.

As an optometrist registered with AHPRA, you would be aware that when you completed your application to general registration, you were required to disclose your criminal history.

Optometrists would also be aware that when renewing their registration, a requirement exists to provide details of any change to their criminal history that occurred during the preceding period of registration. Therefore, at any time during registration, if there is a “relevant event or change in status in relation to certain events”, this should be notified to AHPRA.

Disclaimer: This article is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practise proper clinical decision-making with regard to the individual circumstances. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is current only at the date initially published.

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