Fake news? Doctors and disciplinary proceedings Fake news? Doctors and disciplinary proceedings

Fake news? Doctors and disciplinary proceedings

29 May 2017 | Health Sector

The recent sensationalist headlines create a perception that misconduct amongst Australia’s doctors has reached crisis levels. However, when we analysed the real data, you can see why our doctors remain one of Australia’s top two trusted professions.[1]

The Statistics

Every year the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) releases its annual report. The report includes the number of ‘notifications’ received under the National Law.

A notification can be a formal complaint or merely a concern raised regarding a health practitioner’s health, conduct or performance. We have summarised relevant data relating to medical practitioners for the period 2012 to 2016 below.

AHPRA Statistics (excluding NSW)#

  2012/2013 2013/2014 2014/2015 2015/2016
Number of medical practitioners (Nationally) 95,690 99,379 103,133 107,179
Number of notifications received (Nationally) 3,032 3,812 2,514 3,147
Number of notifications received (Queensland) 1,154 1,361 439 1,058
Notifications resolving in no further action 61% 58% 66% 71%
Number of notifications resolved at panel hearing 64 122 151 86
Number of notifications resolved at tribunal hearing 17 43 78 96

Note: NSW has been excluded for the most accurate comparison of the available data as the statistics for NSW are sourced from the Health Professionals Council Authority not AHPRA.

It is important to remember that not every complaint arises because of a wrong on the part of the doctor. The date shows that upwards of 60% of notifications go no further.  

Although the number of medical practitioners has consistently increased by approximately 4% each year, the number of notifications does not show a corresponding increase. In fact, the number of notifications resolving without further action being taken (after assessment) is trending upwards.

What does this mean?

Overall this is encouraging for public confidence in the medical profesion. Despite increased numbers of both registered practitioners and investigations, AHPRA as the regulator is finding that fewer notifications require further investigation each year. Perhaps the trend towards increased notifications reflects an increasing awareness on the part of the public of their rights surrounding health care and the complaints process itself.

Nevertheless, doctors like the rest of us are from perfect and one need not look far to uncover some extreme examples of doctors behaving badly.

A "third chance"[2]

An anesthetist began surgery minutes after self-injecting propofol (from the surgery's supplies). He had previously come to attention for stealing and using almost 600 100g Pethidine ampoules between October 2008 and June 2009 despite creating false records to cover his tracks. He then failed to undergo urinary drug screening (a condition which had been imposed by the regulator) 11 times.

Despite this, he was afforded a "third chance" by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Although, now banned from the operating theatre, he was found to be fit to continue to treat patients as a GP.

Dr Duck[3]

Dr Duck formed an inappropriate relationship with a patient that included taking her to dinner, buying her gifts such as lingerie (which he photographed her in) and having consultations with her at his home.

The patient had a history of methadone use. One evening, whilst with Dr Duck, she collapsed in her hotel room after injecting heroin. Dr Duck remained with her, alone, and failed call an ambulance.

In deciding to ban Dr Duck from practicing for two years, the Western Australia State Administrative Tribunal took into account his "extensive and serious disciplinary history," including his own drug dependency and having used an iPhone torch to perform a pap smear.

Conclusion

Whilst it is easy to be distracted by sensational stories such as the two recent examples above, we can be reassured by the statistics that show that the majority of registered medical practitioners are deserving of the high esteem in which they are held by the general public.

Further reading:

Links to AHPRA annual reports:

  1. 2012 / 2013 Annual Report;
  2. 2013 / 2014 Annual Report;
  3. 2014 / 2015 Annual Report; and
  4. 2015 / 2016 Annual Report.

1 Cara Jenkin, ‘Australia’s most and least trusted professions: politicians are on the rise but nurses still dominate’, news.com.au (online), 11 May 2016 <http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/careers/australias-most-and-least-trusted-professions-politicians-are-on-the-rise-but-nurses-still-dominate/news-story/9fe9360588b7efd9be9f8e2344bec346>.

[2] Medical Board of Australia v DRP (Review and Regulation) [2016] VCAT 2076 (9 December 2016).

[3] Medical Board of Australia v Duck [2017] WASAT 28.

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