June 2017

Update Medical Board of Australia

Chair’s message

Doctors are human. We get sick, sometimes we feel anxious, overtired, or burnt out. We may develop depression or other significant mental or physical illness. There is ample evidence that many of us are not good at taking care of ourselves and not good at seeking appropriate professional help, whether for routine medical care or when we have a problem. This is not good for us, for our patients or for the profession as a whole. There are many reasons for this. We have trouble acknowledging our own vulnerability, we fear stigma and we don’t always trust that our colleagues will maintain our confidentiality. A further barrier for some doctors is fear of mandatory reporting. While Australia’s health ministers consider whether to change the law about mandatory reporting, it is important that all doctors realise that the threshold for requiring a mandatory report is high, only reached when an impaired doctor is placing the public at risk of substantial harm. This should not deter us from seeking help and support when we need it. 

Dr Joanna Flynn AM
Chair, Medical Board of Australia

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Latest tribunal decisions

Recent decisions have been published online

There are important lessons for registered medical practitioners from tribunal decisions. The Board refers the most serious concerns about medical practitioners to tribunals in each state and territory. Cases published recently have included an appeal and a dismissal:

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal upheld the Medical Board of Australia’s decision about:

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal dismissed the Medical Board of Australia’s allegations about:

Publication of panel, court and tribunal decisions

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), on behalf of the 14 National Boards, publishes a record of panel, court and tribunal decisions about registered health practitioners.

When investigating a notification, the Medical Board may refer a medical practitioner to a health panel hearing, or a performance and professional standards panel hearing. Under the National Law1, panel hearings are not open to the public. AHPRA publishes a record of panel hearing decisions made since July 2010. Practitioners’ names are not published, consistent with the requirements of the National Law.

Summaries of tribunal or court cases are published at Tribunal decisions on the AHPRA website. The Board and AHPRA sometimes choose to not publish summaries, for example about cases involving practitioners with impairment.

In NSW and Queensland, different arrangements are in place. More information is available on AHPRA’s website on the Make a complaint page.


1The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory

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Managing your health

Encouraging stressed and unwell doctors to seek help

Fears about mandatory reporting are cited as a deterrent to doctors seeking help. Only Australia’s health ministers can change the law that sets mandatory reporting requirements. In the meantime, here are some basic facts about mandatory reporting, in case fears are stopping doctors seeking care:

  • The threshold for making a mandatory report is high.
  • In relation to impairment, a treating doctor is only required to make a mandatory report if their patient-doctor has an impairment that has placed the public at risk of substantial harm.
  • There are four types of ‘notifiable conduct’ that must be reported to the Board. By law, it is ‘notifiable conduct’ when a practitioner has:
    • practised their profession while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, or
    • engaged in sexual misconduct in connection with the practice of their profession, or
    • placed the public at risk of substantial harm in their practice of the profession because they have an impairment, or
    • placed the public at risk of harm because they have practised the profession in a way that constitutes a significant departure from accepted professional standards.
  • Practitioners in Western Australia are not required to make a mandatory notification when their reasonable belief about misconduct or impairment is formed in the course of providing health services to a health practitioner or student.
  • All practitioners (including in Western Australia) have a professional and ethical obligation to protect and promote public health and safety. They may make a voluntary notification or encourage the practitioner or student they are treating to self-report.

How does the law translate in practice?

  • The Board encourages all doctors to take care of their health and wellbeing. This means having a regular treating GP, and seeking help when you need it.
  • If you are suffering stress, burnout, anxiety or depression, talk to someone or seek help.
  • You can access confidential advice and support through the doctors’ health advisory and referral services. Contact details for Doctors’ Health Services in each state and territory are available on the drs4drs website. The Board funds these services through an Australian Medical Association (AMA) subsidiary company, DrHS, at arm’s length from the Board.
  • A doctor who seeks help for stress or burnout does not meet the definition of impairment under the law unless their capacity to practise is significantly affected.
  • A doctor suffering from anxiety or depression who is being treated by another practitioner and is following their doctor’s advice, does not meet the threshold for a mandatory report.

You can read more about mandatory reporting requirements on AHPRA’s website.

You can access confidential support and advice through the drs4drs website.

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Recruitment.

Looking for a new challenge?

We are recruiting for Medical Clinical Advisors to join the AHPRA team to provide clinical advice on the assessment and management of notifications about medical practitioners.

For this role you must have unconditional general and/or specialist registration as a medical practitioner and extensive experience and current practice in your specialty.

Preference will be given to practitioners willing to provide general advice on primary care (including general practice) or procedural medicine including anesthesia or consultative medicine (including internal medicine and psychiatry).

There are multiple part-time roles (0.4 – 0.7 FTE preferred) for a 12-month fixed term initially and each can be based in any state or territory. The closing date for applications is 20 July 2017.

Visit the AHPRA website for the position description and more information.

For enquiries please contact Dr Richenda Webb on (08) 7071 5521.

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News and alerts

Alert for medical students: English language standard

Communicating effectively is a cornerstone of good medical practice and a requirement for medical registration in Australia.

Medical students need to have provisional registration before they can practise medicine. To be granted provisional registration, they must meet the requirements of the Board’s English language skills registration standard. AHPRA has sent information out to support medical students who are about to graduate with a reminder about what the English language skills standard requires.

Final year medical students who did not complete at least two years of secondary school taught and assessed solely in English in a recognised country, must check to see how they will meet the standard. For some students this may include sitting an English language test ‒ even if they’ve studied medicine in Australia.

We have published a news item on the Board’s website and AHPRA is using social media to help get the message out.  

Proposed changes to the National Law

Federal and state health ministers are considering amending the National Law, which governs the operations of the Medical Board and AHPRA.

Proposed reforms include bringing paramedics into the National Accreditation and Registration Scheme (the National Scheme) from 2018, making changes that will help improve how we manage notifications (complaints), and increasing the penalties for people holding out as registered practitioners.

The health ministers met in Melbourne recently at the COAG Health Council, which oversees the work of the National Scheme.

The Council publishes a communiqué from its meeting which can be accessed on AHPRA’s website.  

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Contacting the Board

  • The Medical Board of Australia and AHPRA can be contacted by phone on 1300 419 495.
  • For more information, see the Medical Board of Australia website and the AHPRA website.
  • Lodge an enquiry form through the website under Contact us at the bottom of every web page.
  • Mail correspondence can be addressed to: Dr Joanna Flynn AM, Chair, Medical Board of Australia, GPO Box 9958, Melbourne, VIC 3001.

More information

Please note: Practitioners are responsible for keeping up to date with the Board’s expectations about their professional obligations. The Board publishes standards, codes and guidelines as well as alerts in its newsletter. If you unsubscribe from this newsletter you are still required to keep up to date with information published on the Board’s website.

Comment on the Board newsletter is welcome and should be sent to newsletters@ahpra.gov.au.

For registration enquiries or contact detail changes, call the AHPRA customer service team on 1300 419 495 (from within Australia).

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Page reviewed 29/06/2017