A snapshot of AHPRA’s recent changes and updates

26 April 2021

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is the organisation responsible for implementing the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme in Australia. More recently, we saw some important updates from the regulatory body.

AHPRA Annual Report 2019-20

AHPRA released its Annual Report in November 20201. AHPRA reached its milestone of 10 years of national health practitioner regulation in Australia and the establishment of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme, AHPRA and the National Boards. The Annual Report discusses its pandemic sub-register to respond to surge workforce needs across the health system which saw more than 35,000 health practitioners return to registration.

Notwithstanding the impact of COVID-19, there are now 801,659 registered health practitioners in Australia, across 16 professions, which includes health practitioners on the temporary pandemic sub-register. The number of notifications AHPRA received increased by 9.6% on the previous year, more notification than in any other year (10,236). The top three reasons for a notification were clinical care (43.5%), medication issues (9.9%) and communication (7.2%).

Changes in regulatory practice since review of the use of chaperones

AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia appointed the author of the 2017 Independent review of the use of chaperones to protect patients in Australia2, Professor Ron Paterson, to ascertain what has been achieved since his review, and what more could be done to improve their handling of sexual misconduct allegations against medical practitioners. Since 2017, we saw changes to regulatory practice including minimising the use of mandated chaperones and seldom imposing practice-monitor restrictions3. AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia accepted all Professor Paterson’s recommendations including improving communication with notifiers and practitioners and reducing timelines, and applying new ministerial ‘public interest’ guidance to sexual boundary notification decisions. Professor Paterson’s report notes the ongoing use by Tribunals of chaperones as a mechanism to protect the public, despite the recommendations of his initial report.

Introduction of framework for identifying and dealing with vexatious notifications

In December 2020 AHPRA introduced the Framework for identifying and dealing with vexatious notifications (the Framework), for the purpose of identifying and managing potentially vexatious complaints.4 The National Law does not include a definition of a vexatious complaint. In the Framework, a vexatious notification is defined as a “notification without substance, made with an intent to cause distress, detriment or harassment to the practitioner named in the notification.5 A vexatious notification can be made from members of the public, patient or other health practitioners. Although the number of vexatious notices made are very small, the Framework acknowledges the significant impact vexatious notifications are likely to have on practitioners who are the subject of such notifications. Identifying a vexatious notification is not, however, a straight forward process. The Framework outlines that in identifying potential indicators of a vexatious notification, the assessor should have regard to the notification format, the notification content, a notifier’s behaviour, and the relationship between the practitioner and the notifier.6 The prospect that a notification is vexatious may also be raised by the practitioner who is the subject of the notification. The Framework sets out a series of steps for an assessor to take if indications that a complaint may be vexatious are present, including escalation to the National Manager in the first instance. If the National Manager forms a reasonable view that a notification may be vexatious, that information is to be presented to a delegate of the National Board with recommendations to close the notification.7 The Framework also confirms that a Board will take action against a practitioner who makes a vexatious complaint against another practitioner.8

Policy Direction regarding Independent Accreditation Committee advice

The Health Council recently issued a policy direction to support its response to the Independent Review of Accreditation Systems Final Report, which has been welcomed by AHPRA and the National Boards.9 Under the policy direction, the AHPRA Agency Management Committee is to establish an independent committee to provide independent and expert advice on accreditation reform and other accreditation matters.10 The committee is to have broad membership from accreditation stakeholders. The policy direction requires that AHPRA and the National Boards take into account the independent accreditation committee’s advice when exercising their functions under the National Law; document the outcome of that consideration in meeting minutes or other relevant formats; and require Accreditation Authorities to also take into account the independent accreditation committee’s advice when exercising their functions for the purpose of the National Law and document the outcome of their considerations.11 The policy direction will require ongoing collaboration between AHPRA and the Accreditation Authorities.

This article was written by Scott Chapman, Partner, Angela Pale, Associate and Liarne McCarthy, Associate.

1 https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Publications/Annual-reports.aspx
2 https://www.ahpra.gov.au/News/2017-04-11-chaperone-report.aspx
3 Ibid 2
4 https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Notifications/How-we-manage-concerns/Vexatious-notifications.aspx
5 Ahpra, A framework for identifying and dealing with vexatious notifications (2020) 1
6 Ibid 3.
7 Ibid 4.
8 Ibid 2.
9 https://www.ahpra.gov.au/News/2021-02-23-policy-direction.aspx;
10 Health Council Ministerial Council Policy Direction 2020-1 – Independent Accreditation Committee advice (2021) 1-2.
11 Ibid 2.

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