Mandatory Reporting

A Queensland parliament committee is currently reviewing legislation to make some changes to the mandatory reporting rules of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA).

At the moment doctors treating other doctors for mental health problems or physical illnesses must report ‘notifiable conduct’ of their doctor patient to AHPRA. This is what is termed ‘mandatory reporting’.

The AMA and other doctor groups and Colleges regard this mandatory reporting as placing a barrier against unwell doctors coming forward for treatment because of their fear of being reported to the Medical Board and loosing their license to practice. In the worst case scenario mandatory reporting might contribute to doctor and medical student suicide.

The only state in Australia where mandatory reporting does not apply to doctors is in Western Australia. In this state doctors who treat other doctors are exempt from the mandatory reporting rules. As far as I am aware the Western Australia legislation regarding mandatory reporting has not resulted in any concerning loss of protection to patients.

Indeed it could be argued that the Western Australia model is beneficial for the wider community of patients as it encourages doctors with mental health (and other) problems to come forward for treatment.  The Western Australia legislation does not remove from treating doctors their professional and ethical obligations to report matters that may place the public at risk of harm; it just does not make this mandatory.

I made a submission to the parliamentary committee asking for the proposed legislation to be changed to the Western Australia model that exempts doctors from mandatory reporting requirements. Many other medical groups including the RACGP and the AMA have made the same recommendations.

I was disappointed to see that the central RANZCP College office (in Melbourne) did not call for the incorporation of the Western Australia legislation on mandatory reporting into the legislation being considered before the Queensland parliament. On the other hand I was very pleased to see that the submission by the Queensland Branch of the RANZCP College did call for the Western Australia model to be included in the legislation.

I hope the Queensland members of parliament on the committee will be persuaded to modify the legislation in front of them to include the Western Australia model of exempting doctors from mandatory reporting. The report of the committee goes back to parliament in early 2019.

Dr Philip Morris