12 April 2022

RACGP welcomes committee calls for change to rules discouraging GPs from seeking mental healthcare

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed recommendations in a Senate report that calls for changes to mandatory reporting laws that discourage GPs from seeking healthcare.

The Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee tabled its report into the Administration of registration and notifications by Ahpra and related entities under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law on April 4th, 2022.

The report recommends that the Ministerial Council agree to remove current mandatory reporting requirements and align the approach with the Western Australian model, which the RACGP has long been calling for.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said change to mandatory reporting requirements are long overdue.

“It’s very welcome news that the committee recognises the need for this change,” she said.

“The RACGP has been a strong advocate against the laws requiring mandatory reporting by treating practitioners because they discourage doctors from seeking the healthcare they need for fear of being reported. These laws need to change urgently.

“GPs like other medical professionals are not immune from mental health concerns.

“And now more than ever it’s vital that we take care of our mental health, because the pandemic has placed extra stress on GPs, who are experiencing burnout, anxiety and depression as a result.

“We have been calling for exemptions for health practitioners from reporting doctors under their care since the inception of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (National Law) in 2009 – which is the model that has been adopted by Western Australia.

“Minor amendments to mandatory reporting laws were introduced in 2019, along with updated guidelines aiming to reduce confusion surrounding requirements.

“However, as the committee rightly recommends, the Western Australia model should be adopted nation-wide.

“Doctors have the right to receive confidential treatment like any other professional, without fear of repercussions to their medical registration.

“I encourage all GPs to take time to care for themselves. Remember: it’s okay for a doctor not to be okay. So please reach out if you do need help.”

The RACGP President also welcomed recommendations that address the RACGP’s concerns regarding the need for better education and awareness of regulatory processes.

“It’s also pleasing to see the committee recommends that Ahpra and the national boards undertake, education and awareness activities, explaining notifications and other complaints pathways, with health practices,” she said.

“There are systemic issues that arise with Ahpra regulatory processes that need to be addressed.

“We have long been saying that there must be a common-sense approach to regulatory compliance. GPs shouldn’t be punished and stressed unnecessarily when they’re just doing their best to care for their patients, rather there should be more education and awareness raising activities to ensure practitioners fully understand the rules.

“It is good to see Ahpra recognising the issues within the system, and it is increasingly willing to appropriately address them following several years of inquiries.

“I urge swift action to implement these important recommendations and welcome the opportunity to provide advice on implementation from a general practice perspective. If implemented appropriately, these changes will make a real difference for GPs and other health practitioners working hard on the frontline to care for patients, and communities.”

The RACGP provides members a range of mental health resources with strategies for self-care, and a free support program with telephone counselling.

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