Medical Board of Australia - Recognising International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Recognising International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

26 Nov 2021

Family violence is in scope for medical regulation, reflecting the current standards and expectations of the community and the medical profession.

The Medical Board of Australia and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) have updated their processes to prioritise safe and sensitive management of matters involving family violence, including when the doctor is either the victim/survivor or the perpetrator. 

Updates include:

  • Centralising the management of all family violence complaints through a national committee with specialist training and experience.
  • Applying clear principles when handling notifications about doctors alleged to be perpetrators of family violence and doctors who are the victims/survivors of family violence.
  • Confirming that family violence is an important consideration for medical regulation, in terms of safety to practise, public interest and suitability to practise. It is relevant in complaints handling and applications for registration.

The Board deliberately announced the changes to recognise the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The Board and Ahpra receive a small but year on year, increasing number of notifications alleging that a medical practitioner has committed family violence.

Medical Board Chair, Dr Anne Tonkin, said the onus was on the Board to remain in step with community priorities and make sure regulatory processes and decision-making reflect a contemporary understanding of family violence and its impacts.

‘Family violence takes a terrible toll on the Australian community and our regulatory decision-making and processes need to be safe, fair and sensitive when we deal with these issues,’ Dr Tonkin said.

A patient’s general practitioner is often the first person, after friends and family, disclosed to about domestic and sexual violence in Australia. That initial disclosure and the practitioner’s response profoundly affects the victim/survivor’s subsequent experience of seeking help. 

Abuse and violence have serious implications for the physical and psychological health of patients. A doctor who is a perpetrator of family violence may be, or be perceived to be, biased when they are caring for victims or perpetrators of family violence. As well, they may not provide the necessary care if they don’t identify the abuse or if they minimise its impact.

Regulatory decision-making includes ‘public interest’ considerations, including an increasing awareness in the community and the profession that family violence is a crime and is not acceptable.

The Board may also consider whether a perpetrator of family violence is a ‘fit and proper person’, in the context of both registration applications and notifications.

As well this week, the chair of the national committee that handles notifications about family violence and sexual boundary notifications, Ms Christine Gee, was awarded the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS) Gold Medal for 2021 - its highest award. The medal recognises an individual for outstanding contribution to improving quality and safety in Australian health services in a manner consistent with the mission and values of the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards. Ms Gee is a community member of the Queensland Board of the Medical Board of Australia.

In establishing the committee, the Board has transformed the regulatory management of sexual boundary and family violence notifications and was leading regulatory innovation globally, Ms Gee said.

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Page reviewed 26/11/2021