The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) works with the various State Health Complaints Commissioners to investigate community concerns about individual, registered health practitioners. AHPRA engages in a broad range of functions. Their website lists the following:

  • Support the National Boards in their primary role of protecting the public.
  • Publishes national registers of practitioners so important information about the registration of individual health practitioners is available to the public.
  • Manages the registration and renewal processes for health practitioners and students around Australia.
  • Has offices in each state and territory where the public can make a complaint about a registered health practitioner or student.
  • On behalf of the Boards, manages investigations into the professional conduct, performance or health of registered health practitioners, except in NSW where this is undertaken by the Health Professional Councils Authority and the Health Care Complaints Commission.
  • Works with the Health Complaints Commissions in each state and territory to make sure the appropriate organisation deals with community concerns about individual, registered health practitioners.
  • Supports the Boards in the development of registration standards, and codes and guidelines.
  • Provides advice to the Ministerial Council about the administration of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme.

Of relevance here is the complaints process. Complaints to AHPRA are called notifications. The complaints process with AHPRA focuses exclusively on complaints of a serious nature if it involves one of the 14 national board areas of practice. So, AHPRA can not deal with complaints about homeopaths as homeopathy is not one of the 14 national boards.

There is a Memorandum of Understanding between AHPRA and the Tasmanian Health Complaints Commissioner concerning the two different jurisdictions of the organisations. If the AHPRA receives a complaint that falls within the jurisdiction of the Tasmanian Health Complaints Commissioner, AHPRA must pass that complaint on as soon as practicable to the Health Complaints Commissioner.

The types of complaints that AHPRA can investigate involve one or all of the three types of concern with a health practitioner: the health of the practitioner impacting on their ability to provide care or training; the standard of their conduct and the performance of their role as a health care professional. AHPRA provides the following broad interpretation of each of these concerns:

  • health (impairment) – the person has, or may have, a physical or mental impairment, disability, condition or disorder (including substance abuse or dependence) that detrimentally affects or is likely to detrimentally affect their practice of the profession (for practitioners) or their ability to undertake clinical training (students)
  • conduct – the professional conduct of a registered health practitioner is, or may be, of a lesser standard than might reasonably be expected by the public or professional peers, or
  • performance – the knowledge, skill or judgment possessed, or care exercised, by the practitioner in the practice of their health profession is, or may be, below the standard reasonably expected of a health practitioner of an equivalent level of training or experience.

As AHPRA notes on their website, billing complaints should be directed to the Health Complaints Commissioner.
If you have a concern about any of the following, a notification can be made to AHPRA:

  • behaviour
  • boundary violation
  • clinical care
  • communication
  • confidentiality
  • conflict of interest
  • discrimination
  • documentation
  • health impairment
  • infection/hygiene
  • informed consent
  • medico-legal
  • National Law breach (such as breach of a registration standard, endorsement, condition or undertaking)
  • National Law offence (such as an advertising breach)
  • offence
  • offence by student
  • pharmacy/medication
  • research/training/assessment
  • response to adverse event, or
  • teamwork/supervision.

Powers of AHPRA

AHPRA can impose serious penalties on a medical student or medical professional who is found to have breached professional standards or even the law. For example, a podiatrist in Tasmania was convicted of the criminal offence of aggravated sexual assault when he made a representation to a patient that he could determine if she had back problems by inserting his finger into her rectum. The sentencing judge noted that his practising certificate had been suspended and would be cancelled upon conviction.

Every substantiated complaint does not meet with the same penalty. That will be a matter for the Health Practitioners Tribunal to decide. If AHPRA substantiates a complaint and it is then taken to the Tribunal to decide, the penalty imposed will fit the offence. Obviously it is a matter of scale. Deregistration is the most serious penalty that can be imposed. Other penalties include suspension, requirement to attend training on professional ethics, and to pay the cost of proceedings where the issue has gone to the Health Practitioners Tribunal.

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