03 June 2022

RACGP calls for better balance in the amendments of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is calling for better balance in legislation which is set to change the way medical professions are regulated to ensure patient safety is at the forefront.

The RACGP has advocated for improvements to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law for many years, with a strong focus on ensuring common sense reforms that support the wellbeing of the practitioner as well as guarantee public safety.

In its submission to the Health and Environment Committee’s Inquiry into the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 the RACGP restated several of our existing concerns with the proposed amendments.

The College is calling for changes to the Bill, which is currently going through the Queensland legislative system, to ensure the system is fair and balanced, including opposing:
  • The proposal to allow information on complaints to be made public before investigations are complete as it could cause significant stress and undue reputational damage. Even with safeguards in place, this does not prevent unforeseen damage that could occur from a public statement issued where the practitioner is not at fault.
  • Disciplinary action in relation to health practitioners while unregistered, as this amendment appears unnecessary and there is potential for it to be unacceptably overused. National Boards already have powers to prosecute more serious instances of practicing without registration, and where less serious instances occur, there are provisions to apply conditions where necessary on renewal of registration.
  • Amendments to legislate public confidence without appropriate balance of practitioner confidence, which could further undermine the health system.  
RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said that, while she was pleased to see some of the amendments to the Bill related to cultural safety, there needed to be better balance to ensure GPs can provide quality healthcare to all Australians, without fear of vexatious complaints or prosecution.

“We need to make sure that the proposed amendments of the Bill strike a good balance and ensure both medical practitioners and the public have confidence in the regulatory system,” she said.

“I’m very concerned about the potential impact of some of the proposed amendments on practitioners, particularly regarding changes to allow public statements about practitioners. This could cause significant undue reputational damage that ruins careers and ultimately impacts on patient access to care.

“Medical practitioners experience numerous stressors, which have increased because of multiple health crises in recent years. Undergoing an investigation for a complaint can be an extremely stressful and time-consuming process, that can have significant reputational and professional consequences, regardless of whether the practitioner in question is at fault.”

“Ahpra and the National Boards have been working to address existing issues, including inadequate vetting of complaints, lack of communication and transparency, and poor timeliness, and we acknowledge this in our submission.

“However, many issues remain, and we cannot support laws that allow more actions to be taken before all investigations and appeals processes are complete.

“We know that if practitioners lack confidence in the regulatory system it can lead to more defensive medicine, which risks misdiagnosis, over-treatment of benign conditions, or under-treatment of serious conditions. This would weaken public confidence in the healthcare system overall.

“It’s also important to consider the potential long-term impact on the medical workforce. Interest in general practice as a career is declining, with less than 15% of medical graduates choosing GP training.

“We need to do all we can to attract more medical students to the profession to ensure all Australian’s have access to high-quality primary care into the future. However, an increasing regulatory burden will have the opposite effect.

“An overly judicious regulatory system will inevitably lead to reduced medical workforce recruitment and increased practitioner stress, at a time when GPs are under more pressure than ever due to the ongoing pandemic and vaccine rollout. The proposed changes to this Bill must restore confidence in the system, and ensure patient safety really is at the forefront.”

Media enquiries

Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact:

John Ronan

Senior Media Advisor