Medical Board of Australia - July 2024
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July 2024

News for medical practitioners

In this month's issue:

Medical Board of Australia news

Online medical certificates

Writing a medical certificate is a medical service. It requires a real-time doctor patient consultation for the doctor to assess the patient, provide any necessary treatment and decide whether a certificate is indicated.

Doctors employed by companies advertising ‘online medical certificates’ that are ‘quick and easy’ – with patients receiving an emailed certificate within minutes of completing an online questionnaire, without a consultation – may be breaching professional standards.

The Board’s code of conduct, Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia and the Guidelines: Telehealth consultations with patients apply to all medical services.

The Telehealth guidelines are clear: providing healthcare without a real-time consultation is not good practice. Issuing a medical certificate is not just an administrative task. It requires medical judgement and is providing healthcare.

We remind doctors providing medical certificates through online services about the Board’s guidance in the Code of conduct. Doctors must be honest, ethical and trustworthy. The community places a great deal of trust in doctors. Consequently, doctors have been given the authority to sign a variety of documents, including sickness certificates, on the assumption they will only sign statements that they know, or reasonably believe, to be true. Good medical practice involves:

  • being honest and not misleading when writing reports and certificates, and only signing documents you believe to be accurate
  • taking reasonable steps to verify the content before you sign a report or certificate, and not omitting relevant information deliberately.

We also encourage doctors prescribing through an online service to read our recent statement on prescribing on the Medical Board website. Similar issues apply.

Latest SIMG specialist pathway data published

Latest data about the progress of specialist international medical graduates through medical college assessment processes is now available.

The report of 2023 specialist international medical graduate (SIMG) application and assessment data is published on the Medical Board website.

Traditionally, specialist medical colleges have assessed SIMGs who wish to practise as a specialist in their specialty in Australia. Each assessment is individualised. All SIMGs need to satisfactorily complete a period of supervised practice and pass college assessments before they apply for specialist registration.

Data from all specialist medical colleges are collected and collated, including the number of SIMG applications for assessment and college assessment timeframes. The data are reported against benchmarks set by the Medical Board based on the Board’s Standards: Specialist medical college assessment of specialist international medical graduates.

The data are reported in two sections – SIMGs who applied under the current standards in the last three years and those who applied under the previous guidelines, for the SIMG assessment process.

We have also published a one-pager summary of the data for each college.

The reports of the 2023 data are published on the Board’s IMG specialist pathway page.

Expedited pathway for SIMG registration

At health ministers’ request, the Board is working to make Australia a more globally competitive destination for specialist medical practice, by creating an expedited pathway for SIMGs with certain qualifications. Work to create the new expedited pathway, which is in addition to the traditional specialist college assessment, is progressing well.


Share your thoughts about possible changes to the Criminal history registration standard

What kind of criminal history is incompatible with registration? What should guide Board decisions when a doctor or other health practitioner with a criminal history applies for registration, or to return to practice?

The latest draft of the revised Criminal history registration standard is open for consultation. It provides the framework for Board decision-making and sets the criminal history standards that practitioners must meet.

The current draft standard and updated supporting materials reflects feedback provided in the consultation held in late 2023, as part of our work to improve public safety in health regulation.

Major changes include:

  • Making it clear when a practitioner’s criminal history is incompatible with registration.
  • More information about the reason for the standard and examples of how it works.
  • Enabling Boards to consider the nature and gravity, or seriousness, of a criminal offence in the context of registration as a health practitioner.
  • Adding a new consideration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences of inequity and racism, and the disproportionate impact these experiences may have on an individual’s criminal history.

Please share your thoughts about how well we’ve responded to your feedback and if the new supplementary guidance is helpful.

The consultation is open until 30 July 2024. Find out more about this consultation and provide feedback on the Current consultations page.

News and alerts

Ahpra welcomes complexity review

A review into the complexity of Australia’s current health practitioner regulatory system is underway.

The independent review was announced by the Health Chief Executives’ Forum (HCEF) and welcomed by Ahpra and the National Boards. More information is in the HCEF Communiqué.

The review will examine reform options to streamline and harmonise decision making in the National Scheme, improve and make consumer-driven the complaints management and disciplinary processes, and increase the consistency of regulatory decisions by state and territory civil and administrative tribunals, particularly about professional misconduct.

The HCEF supports the Australian Health Ministers’ Meeting to achieve their national workforce priorities.

The Complexity Review is chaired by former NSW Health Care Complaints Commissioner Sue Dawson and expected to report in April 2025.

National Law changes provide more protections for the public

The recent series of amendments to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law are now complete, with a final suite of changes introduced from 1 July.

A key update for practitioners is that you can now nominate an alternative name to go on the register, alongside your legal name.

Some health practitioners may practise under an alternative name, such as a traditional name or an anglicised or shortened name.

Having both your legal name and your alternative name appear on the public register will make it easier for the public to search the register and make informed decisions about their care.

You can find out more information about alternative names and how to nominate on the Ahpra website.

Other changes to the National Law from 1 July include:

  • allowing National Boards and Ahpra to issue interim prohibition orders to unregistered persons in certain circumstances where the person poses a serious risk to others
  • establishing the process for renewal of a practitioner’s registration after a period of suspension
  • empowering the National Boards to include previously excluded information in the National Register if there is a reasonable belief the circumstances have changed
  • enabling the Ministerial Council to delegate its power to approve registration standards to an appropriate entity.

Completion of the program of amendments to the National Law will improve health regulation and improve public safety nationwide. Australia’s health system and the reasons and ways people access it have changed dramatically over the past 15 years. These reforms allow the regulation scheme to evolve with it, strengthening Ahpra and National Boards’ ability to protect the public and support practitioners.

More information about the changes, as well as future areas of focus and ways to provide feedback can be found on the Ahpra website.

Medical regulation at work

Latest tribunal decisions published

There are important lessons in tribunal decisions about registered medical practitioners. The Medical Board of Australia refers the most serious concerns about medical practitioners to tribunals in each state and territory. Here are the recently published decisions:

  • a Western Australian medical practitioner has had his registration cancelled and is disqualified from applying for registration for 12 months for transgressing professional and sexual boundaries with three patients (Medical Board of Australia and Saunders)
  • a Victorian general practitioner has had his registration suspended and conditions placed on his registration for failing to safely prescribe scheduled medications and failing to maintain professional boundaries (Medical Board of Australia v Pham)
  • a Victorian GP has been disqualified from applying for registration for four years for inappropriate prescribing and poor clinical care (Medical Board of Australia v Ong).

Publication of panel, court and tribunal decisions

Ahpra, on behalf of the 15 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 Law, 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 National Law.

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

In New South Wales and Queensland, different arrangements are in place. More information is available on Ahpra’s website on the How to raise a concern about a health practitioner page.

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 Anne Tonkin AO, 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.

Comments on the Board newsletter are welcome, send your feedback and suggestions to [email protected].

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

Page reviewed 10/07/2024