Medical Board of Australia - December 2021

December 2021

 In this edition:


From the CEO

Welcome to our summer 2021 update which highlights our annual report for 2020/21.

We acknowledge the incredibly hard work and commitment of registered health practitioners throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those working at the frontline in hospitals, aged care and the community, those testing and vaccinating across the country, and those in public health leadership roles.

In partnership with others, we’ve continued to promote the importance of reliable, evidence-based information on COVID-19 and vaccination, helping people find trustworthy advice so they can make better choices about their healthcare. We’ve made the online public register more user-friendly so people can search more easily to check that their health practitioner is registered.

Improving cultural safety and eliminating racism in the health system is a vital part of our commitment to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. We are proud to have worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers Indigenous Consulting to roll out the Moong-moong-gak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety training for staff and board and committee members over the past year. The words ‘Moong-moong-gak' have been gifted by the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation and are used to frame and synthesise what the project is about: safety.

Martin Fletcher

Martin.Fletcher@ahpra.gov.au

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Annual report roundup 2020/21: regulating in the second year of the pandemic

In November, Ahpra released our 2020/21 annual report, highlighting our regulatory work with National Boards and the exceptional work of registered health practitioners in very challenging times.

There were 825,720 registered health practitioners across 16 regulated professions, an increase of 3.0% on last year. This includes 26,595 health practitioners on the temporary pandemic sub-register set up to provide a surge workforce if needed.

We finalised 84,232 applications for registration. We received 41,548 applications from new graduates, including nearly 23,300 newly graduating nurses.

We received 10,147 notifications about 7,858 health practitioners in 2020/21; that’s 0.9% fewer notifications than in 2019/20 but 8.7% more than in 2018/19. The top three reasons for a notification were clinical care, medication and communication.

121 matters about professional misconduct were determined by tribunals: 96.7% resulted in disciplinary action. We completed 16 proceedings in the courts for offences under the National Law. All prosecutions resulted in findings of guilt against the defendant on one or more charges.

3,516 practitioners monitored to ensure health, performance and/or conduct requirements were being met during the year.

Through the work of accreditation authorities, the National Scheme sees over 860 approved programs of study, delivered by more than 130 education providers.

Board and committee members working in partnership with Ahpra staff have demonstrated a deep commitment to doing all they can to meet our mandate to protect the public and sustain a health workforce for Australia.

To view and download the 2020/21 annual report, visit the Ahpra website.

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The public register is now easier to use

Ahpra has launched a new-look online public register that is easier to use. It includes every registered health practitioner in Australia. Anyone, including practitioners, patients and employers, can use it to check if a practitioner is registered, their type of registration and any conditions limiting their practice.

The search function now includes predictive text and phonetic searching for names, in case you’re not sure about the spelling. You can also search for a type of practitioner in a location and filter searches by gender and languages spoken.

Find out more about how to use the register in this video.

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Eliminating racism from healthcare: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Unit

Improving cultural safety and eliminating racism in the health system is a vital part of our commitment to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. We are enormously proud that we could roll out the Moong-moong-gak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety training for staff and Board and committee members.

Ahpra is now establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Unit (HSU). The change reflects the growing importance and scope of our work on reconciliation, cultural safety and anti-racism as part of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Cultural Safety Strategy 2020-2025. More widely, we have welcomed a renewed focus on Closing the Gap and proposed legislative amendments to make cultural safety and eliminating racism both a guiding principle and objective of the National Law. 

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Improving public safety: independent review into cosmetic surgery

Ahpra and the Medical Board of Australia have commissioned an independent review of patient safety issues in the cosmetic sector, including how to strengthen risk-based regulation of practitioners in this increasingly entrepreneurial part of the profession.

Some worrying features of the cosmetic industry set it apart from conventional medical practice, including corporate business models which are alleged to place profit over patient safety, no medical need for cosmetic procedures, limited factual information for consumers and exponential growth in social media that emphasises benefits and downplays risks.

There are also concerns that there may be a weak safety and reporting culture in cosmetic surgery. While it’s a good thing that there are doctors, nurses and other health professionals who are picking up the pieces when cosmetic procedures go wrong, we need to understand why these practitioners are not always sharing their patient safety concerns with us in a timely way.

The independent review will ensure that the specific regulatory responsibilities of Ahpra and National Boards are effectively protecting the public, in our part of the system of checks and balances in place for cosmetic surgery. State and territory health authorities have a major regulatory role in licensing facilities.

The review will be led by outgoing Queensland Health Ombudsman, Andrew Brown, and public consultation will begin in early 2022. Read more, including the review’s terms of reference, in the news item.

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Improving practitioner safety: statement on sexism and gendered violence in healthcare

All of us who work in the health sector have a role in building and maintaining a culture of respect in healthcare.

Ahpra and the National Boards have published a position statement encouraging practitioners to speak up about disrespectful behaviour and unprofessional conduct, to support a safer healthcare system for everyone. The statement reminds practitioners that there is no place for sexism, sexual harassment or gendered violence in healthcare.

Respect is a cornerstone of good professional practice and is fundamental to the Australian community’s trust in registered health practitioners. Unprofessional conduct, including sexual harassment or assault, is contrary to the National Boards’ codes of conduct (or equivalent).

What about sexual misconduct towards patients?

We are very much aware of patient safety issues in this sphere. To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), online news site Women’s Agenda published an editorial called Consent matters in healthcare. What to do if something feels wrong, co-authored by Gill Callister PSM, Chair of Ahpra’s governing board, Dr Anne Tonkin, Chair of the Medical Board of Australia, Rachel Phillips, Chair of the Psychology Board of Australia and Annette Symes, Presiding Member of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.

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Improving how we manage notifications 

The past year has seen continued improvements to the ways we manage notifications about registered health practitioners.

Ahpra has strengthened confidentiality safeguards for notifiers, following the conviction of a medical practitioner for the attempted murder of a pharmacist who had raised concerns about his prescribing practices.

We asked the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman to review the confidentiality safeguards in place for people making notifications about health practitioners. The review made 10 recommendations, all now implemented or underway. To read more about the recommendations and how we are meeting them, see the news item.

We have recently established a new service for the most at-risk notifiers or those most likely to benefit from support in sexual boundary and sexual misconduct matters. The service is internally staffed by social workers who provide procedural guidance, referral and support through our notifications and tribunal processes.

What about procedural fairness for practitioners?

We also recognise the importance of procedural fairness for practitioners who are subject to a notification. After consulting with professional associations and professional indemnity providers, we published a new Regulatory guide which sets out how Ahpra and the National Boards manage notifications about the health, performance and conduct of practitioners under Part 8 of the National Law. 

We also published a Vexatious notifications framework and introduced new training for staff in identifying and managing vexatious complaints.

We recognise and acknowledge the stressful impact a notification can have. We encourage practitioners to access support through health support services, professional associations and indemnity insurers.

For more information about notifications and a link to the regulatory guide, visit our Further information page.

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Reforms and progress: accreditation and research

New accreditation committee established to provide independent, expert advice

We’ve established a new, independent accreditation committee following Health Ministers’ policy direction issued earlier this year and as a key element of Health Ministers’ response to the Independent Review of Accreditation Systems Final Report, Australia’s Health Workforce: strengthening the education foundation. The committee will advise on accreditation reform issues. Professor Andrew Wilson has been appointed Independent Chair and the committee members have been drawn from categories identified by Health Ministers.

Read more in the news item.

Research and evaluation framework to embed strong research culture

National Boards and Ahpra have published the Research and evaluation framework, the guiding document that outlines how we prioritise, carry out, manage and assess research and evaluation. The framework covers all National Scheme research and evaluation activities including those led by Ahpra staff and external researchers and consultants. It includes information on research and evaluation principles, priorities, governance and practice, and engagement and communication. Visit our Data access and research section to access our published research and data.

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Listen up!

Our Taking care podcast series covers a wide range of current issues in patient safety and healthcare in conversation with health experts and other people in our community. Recent podcasts focus on patient safety in a pandemic, a safe culture in healthcare, being a health practitioner during a pandemic, long COVID and role of physiotherapy, and the law and patient choice at the end of life. We also publish transcripts of our podcasts.

Did you know Ahpra has a podcast?
Listen and subscribe by searching for Taking Care in your podcast player (for example Apple Podcasts or Spotify), or listen on our website.

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Learning from tribunal and court outcomes

There are important lessons for registered health practitioners and employers in tribunal and court decisions and we publish summaries of these in the News section of the Ahpra website. 

Check out the National Board news

The 15 National Boards publish a range of newsletters and other information about their work: to visit their websites, follow the links on Ahpra’s home page.

Continue the conversation

You can stay in touch with us through:

If you have any comments or suggestions about Ahpra Report, please send them to newsletters@ahpra.gov.au

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Page reviewed 12/08/2022