Concerns grow over new disclosure rules

Australia’s largest medical defence organisation is troubled by the regulator’s new policy to name doctors subjected to legal and disciplinary proceedings. 

Under tougher disclosure rules, the Medical Board is now publishing registration conditions imposed on doctors and links to legal cases against them in its register of health practitioners. 

“One of our major and ongoing concerns, as an organisation that assists doctors in responding to complaints and notifications made about them to regulators, is the significant impact that the complaints process can have on a practitioner,” Dr Penny Browne, Chief Medical Officer at Avant, told The Medical Republic.

“We accept the right of patients to obtain information and the public interest in transparency.

“However, this needs to be balanced against the right of a health practitioner who has been through a disciplinary process to be able to continue to practise without stigmatisation.”

Dr Browne said Avant had assisted doctors in matters where allegations against them were not proven and no adverse finding was made, or adverse findings had been overturned.

“They have subsequently tried to move on with their lives. For them, the publication of links to their disciplinary proceedings will inevitably cause great distress,” she said.

This could lead to impacts on patient safety and affect a practitioner’s future employability, she said.

“There is a significant risk that more weight will be given to the allegations than the findings. This is punitive.”

Avant proposes that links to adverse findings should be removed after an appropriate time. 

As well as the disclosure of registration conditions, the Austlii online legal database has added a new resource – the Australian Health Practitioner Law Library – listing decisions made by AHPRA panels and state and territory jurisdictions over the past decade.

Previously, this information could only be obtained from an arduous search of each jurisdiction.  

RACGP President Bastian Seidel has questioned the Medical Board’s disclosure decision, which came in response to a failure of chaperone conditions imposed in cases of alleged sexual misconduct.

“AHPRA’s decision to link disciplinary outcomes to registered practitioners on a medical register needs to be thoroughly evaluated, and broader discussion on the long-term implications should be held in order to determine impacts on patient safety and the ongoing quality of care,” Dr Seidel said.

“The majority of medical practitioners act in an ethical and professional manner, and disciplinary cases in Australia are considerably low.”