An Employer/Medical Practice perspective on title protections: What are the obligations and pitfalls?

31 January 2024

The Health Professional Regulation National Law 2009 (National Law) restricts the use of protected titles and makes it unlawful for someone to knowingly or recklessly, take or use a title in a way that would be reasonably expected to make another person believe they are registered in one of the health professions listed in the National Law, when they are not registered.1 It is also unlawful to use a specialist title when the person does not have specialist registration.2 Similarly it is unlawful to claim to be registered under the National Law when that is not the case.3

In August 2023, Ms Alison Mibus was sentenced to four months and 28 days imprisonment in relation to five charges of holding herself out as a registered nurse, and one charge of claiming to be qualified to practise as a nurse, in breach of s116 of the National Law. This was the second time Ms Mibus had been prosecuted for holding herself out as a registered nurse. In both instances, Ms Mibus falsely claimed to be a registered nurse and administered vaccines whilst being employed as a practice manager of a medical clinic.

Ms Mibus’ conviction and sentence serve both as a reminder and warning for health service providers, to ensure that an individual who claims to be registered to practice as a health practitioner and/or specialist, is appropriately registered.

S116(2) of the National Law, provides that a person must not knowingly or recklessly:

  • take or use the title of ‘registered health practitioner’, with or without any other words in relation to another person who is not a registered health practitioner;
  • take or use a title, name, initial, symbol word or description which in the circumstances, indicates or could be reasonably understood to indicate, that another person is:
    • a health practitioner when they are not; or
    • is authorised or qualified to practise in a health profession, if the other person is not a registered health practitioner in that health profession;
  • claim another person is registered under the National Law or hold the other person out as being registered under the National Law, when they are not; or
  • claim another person is qualified to practise as a health practitioner if the other person is not a registered health practitioner.

S118(2) of the National Law contains provisions which reflect those of s116(2) in relation to the use of the title of ‘specialist health practitioner’.

The maximum penalties for breaching either s116(2) or s118(2) of the National Law are:

  • $60,000 or 3-years imprisonment, or both for an individual; and
  • $120,000 for a body corporate.

While the custodial prison sentence imposed on Ms Mibus was a first, AHPRA’s 2021/2022 annual report suggests that the alleged unlawful use of protected titles is not uncommon. In 2021/2022, 75.8% of the 418 criminal offence complaints investigated by AHPRA related to title protection offences. A few of the more recent prosecutions include:

  • In or about March 2022, a woman was convicted and sentenced to seven months imprisonment to be served in the community after being charged with two counts of holding herself out to be a registered nurse before she was granted registration. She had worked as a registered nurse in an aged care facility and as a graduate nurse in a private Sydney hospital;
  • In July 2023, an Adelaide woman was prosecuted and fined after she falsely claimed to be a registered psychologist when applying for a position with a telehealth service; and
  • In August 2023, a Queensland man was convicted of falsely claiming to be registered as a physiotherapist and using falsified documents to lease a room to provide physiotherapy services at a health clinic in Burpengary, Queensland. The falsehood was discovered before any patients were treated and the lease was amended to reflect the provision of massage services only. Despite this, the man continued to refer to himself as a physiotherapist in discussions with another health professional at the clinic.

In May 2023, the South Australia Health CEO commissioned an independent investigation into how a doctor without registration was allegedly permitted to work in the Port Augusta Hospital emergency department for six days from 24 April 2023. The overseas trained doctor was granted provisional registration very shortly after on 2 May 2023.4

The healthcare and social assistance industry which covers services like hospitals, GPs, dental, ambulance and aged care services is Australia’s largest and fastest growing industry.5 However, the Future Health Index 2022 and Future Health Index 2023 reports both suggest that one of the significant challenges in providing health care is a workforce shortage that was exacerbated by the ‘mass resignation’ following the height of the pandemic.6 Prior to this, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association estimated in 2017, that Australia’s health workforce would face a deficit of around 110,000 nurses and 2,700 doctors by 2025.7

The repeated conduct of Ms Mibus suggests that there are individuals who knowingly hold themselves out as registered health practitioners when they are not. Her convictions and custodial sentence send a strong message that AHPRA will not tolerate this conduct which poses a significant risk to the public and the public’s confidence in the safety of services being provided by registered health practitioners.

S116(2) and s118(2) of the National Law require individuals and corporations which employ or enter into service agreements with other individuals to provide health care services as registered health practitioners, to ensure these individuals are appropriately registered with AHPRA. This can be done by requesting proof of registration and conducting a search of AHPRA’s public register of registered health practitioners at Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency – Register of practitioners ( Both of these steps are simple measures to avoid potential risks to patients and, the reputational damage and expenses arising from any potential regulatory action for offending title protection provisions within the National Law.

This article was written by Katharine Philp, Partner and Heather Nieuwenhoven, Associate.

1s113 Health Professional Regulation National Law 2009
2s115 Health Professional Regulation National Law 2009
3s116 Health Professional Regulation National Law 2009
4Unregistered doctor allegedly works at Port Augusta Hospital emergency department – ABC News
5Australian Government Labour Market Information Portal, Industry Profiles | Labour Market Insights accessed 16 October 2023
6philips-future-health-index-2022-report-healthcare-hits-reset-global.pdf; philips-future-health-index-2023-report-taking-healthcare-everywhere-global.pdf accessed 17 October 2023

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