10 Oct 2017
A court in Victoria has fined an individual after she treated patients as a psychologist while not registered to do so under the National Law.
A court has fined a Victorian woman $20,000 without conviction and ordered her to pay $10,000 in costs for holding out as a psychologist and as a general practitioner. It followed her treatment of patients as a psychologist while not registered to do so under the National Law1.
The individual was charged by AHPRA on behalf of the Psychology Board of Australia (Psychology Board) and the Medical Board of Australia (Medical Board) following her employment at a wellness retreat between March and October 2016. The wellness retreat admitted members of the public suffering from substance abuse, depression, anxiety and other behavioural issues.
In gaining employment with the facility, the individual stated she was a psychologist and medical practitioner. She submitted a resume and cover letter which represented she was a qualified psychologist and general practitioner with experience in both areas.
During seven months of employment with the facility, the individual conducted individual and group psychology sessions and drafted reports on behalf of clients undergoing treatment. These were prepared for the purpose of assisting in court proceedings and in workers’ compensation cases. In her role the individual also liaised with authorities for mandatory reporting purposes including family violence matters.
Following the individual’s abrupt termination of her employment in October, the facility director contacted AHPRA in November 2016 to report she had been working as a psychologist when she was not a registered health practitioner. A formal complaint was made in December and, following an investigation, AHPRA charged the individual with 16 charges relating to the use of the protected title of psychologist, holding out as a psychologist and holding out to be registered in the recognised medical specialty of general practice.
The titles psychologist and medical practitioner are protected under the National Law and can only be used by qualified and trained practitioners who are registered with the Psychology Board and Medical Board, respectively.
On 27 September 2017 in the Ballarat Magistrates’ Court, the individual pleaded guilty to two of the charges following plea negotiations. Counsel for the individual submitted that during the period of offending she was going through a difficult time in her personal life and it was unlikely she would face court again.
The individual was fined $20,000 and ordered to pay AHPRA’s costs in the amount of $10,000 as agreed between the parties. In considering the sentence, the court noted the serious offending undertaken by the individual. No conviction was recorded.
Make sure you are seeing a registered health practitioner
It is a serious matter if anyone who is not a registered health practitioner claims to be a registered health practitioner or uses titles that are protected under the National Law (e.g. ‘psychologist', ‘medical practitioner', ‘nurse’ etc.). Both are offences and may be prosecuted by AHPRA.
The National Law protects the public by ensuring that only registered health practitioners who are suitably trained and qualified are able to use protected titles. The law allows for penalties for using protected titles or holding out as a registered practitioner when not entitled to. The maximum penalty which a court may impose is $30,000 (in the case of an individual) or $60,000 (in the case of a body corporate).
AHPRA reminds consumers that it is important that they ensure that the practitioner they are seeing is appropriately registered. Anyone receiving treatment from an unregistered person who is claiming to be registered is a cause for concern and we want to hear from them. Remember to check the Register of practitioners or you can raise a concern by calling 1300 419 495.