AHPRA notifications linked to 16 deaths

3 minute read

The regulator plans to reduce investigative timelines, provide better updates and help at-risk practitioners access mental health support.

At least 16 health professionals died over four years while being investigated by AHPRA, new research from the regulator has revealed.

The paper, which is currently under peer review but expected to be published in full later this year, was commissioned by AHPRA but included independent experts and representatives from across the 16 national boards.

In all, the researchers identified 16 deaths – implied to be suicides – and four instances of attempted suicide or self-harm among health practitioners between January 2018 and December 2021.

“In-depth reviews of those cases identified that practitioners who took their own lives were facing significant life and health challenges, often with pre-existing mental health challenges, a history of substance misuse, or both,” AHPRA said.

“Mental health diagnoses included bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress disorder, while autism, ADHD and traumatic brain injury also featured.”

According to AHPRA, the research also identified the moments when practitioners are first informed about a notification, told they are suspended, are referred to a tribunal or are told the results of a health assessment as the most potentially distressing incidents in the regulatory process.

Ahead of the full research paper coming out, AHPRA has announced several reforms it hopes will better support practitioners who have a notification.

It has already set up a health management team to manage all notifications where a health assessment is required, which it said has decreased the average time to finalise a health-assessment related notification from 265 days to 125 days.

The number of health assessments ordered has also decreased by 60%, which AHPRA ascribes to putting more emphasis on reports done by the person’s treating practitioner.

Other reforms which are yet to be enacted include reducing investigative timelines by supporting unwell practitioners more actively, increase awareness of substance use disorders among the investigating team, provide regular updates to the notifier and practitioner, help at-risk practitioners to access professional support while being investigated and provide post-incident support to staff and national boards members.

“We are trying to increase the sensitivity of our approach, to strike a better balance between effective regulation that protects the public and due care and respect for the practitioners involved in our regulatory processes who are often facing complex health and life challenges,” AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said.

The AMA said it would continue to lobby for state and federal health ministers to recognise the negative impact that regulatory processes have on doctors.

“This information should send a strong message to health ministers that they can no longer ignore the AMA’s calls for better support for doctors including an explicit exemption from mandatory reporting for treating doctors,” association president Professor Steve Robson said.

The AMA has called for a mandate that AHPRA has a duty of care to practitioners, in particular a duty to minimise the mental and financial impact of notifications.

It would also like to see AHPRA and the Medical Board offer confidential and independent mental health support to practitioners under investigation and to ensure that practitioners have the right to be personally present and legally represented during the investigative process.

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×