Legal Insights

Mandatory reporting of registered health practitioners and students in health disciplines

By Lucille Scomazzon

• 30 October 2014 • 3 min read
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The mandatory reporting and voluntary complaint provisions in the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health practitioners often raise difficult issues of interpretation for education providers, employers and health practitioners.

There is often uncertainty about when a person or organisation ‘must’ report and when they ‘may’ report.

All Australian states and territories have laws which require health practitioners, employers and education providers to report certain conduct of health practitioners and students to the relevant regulatory authority. In most cases, the first point of contact is the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

These obligations arise under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme which also permits the making of complaints about registered health practitioners and students where the conduct does not meet the test for a mandatory notification. The national scheme applies to 14 health professions: doctors, nurses, dentists and practitioners from 11 allied health professions.

For universities, the mandatory reporting obligations may arise in several contexts including:

  • reporting obligations regarding students enrolled in courses for relevant health disciplines
  • reporting obligations regarding university employees who are health practitioners
  • supporting health practitioners who are engaged by a university and subject to their own obligations to report conduct of other health practitioners or students.

As an education provider, a university must notify AHPRA if there is a reasonable belief that a student has an ‘impairment’ which in the course of the student undertaking clinical training, may place the public at substantial risk of harm. As noted above, similar mandatory reporting obligations apply to health practitioners.

As an employer of health practitioners, a university must notify AHPRA if there is a reasonable belief that a health practitioner has behaved in a way that constitutes ‘notifiable conduct’. Notifiable conduct includes practising while intoxicated, sexual misconduct or placing the public at risk of substantial harm because of an impairment or significant departure from accepted professional standards.

Given the complexities involved, there is merit in a university having in place a clear policy position and procedures on notification and complaints under the national scheme. This includes:

  • an articulation of the mandatory obligations
  • when a university will, as a matter of policy, voluntarily make complaints about students or registered health practitioners (even though it has no mandatory obligation)
  • what happens to a student’s enrolment if a university receives notification from a registration body that the registration of a student has been cancelled, suspended or made conditional
  • when reporting is undertaken in a manner that attracts the protection from liability for reporters under the national scheme
  • supporting registered health practitioners involved in teaching and training functions to identify impaired students and practitioners, and when the obligations to report and the discretion to report should be exercised
  • the role the university will take in supporting registered health practitioners engaged by the university to report ‘notifiable conduct’ or making a complaint to a regulatory body about another health practitioner
  • how the national scheme interacts with the university’s disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • guidance for registered health practitioners who participate in a university’s disciplinary functions (e.g. on disciplinary committees) so far as any independent obligations the practitioner may have to report impairment or other conduct (there are limited exceptions to certain reporting obligations of health practitioners).

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