AHPRA slashes number of complaints pursued

4 minute read

The National Boards aim to be a ‘more humane, while still effective regulator’.

The number of cases referred for formal investigation by AHPRA have dropped to a fifth of what they were before the regulator changed its process for addressing notifications – 93 cases per month to an average of 20. 

Last year AHPRA reshuffled how it managed notifications, by triaging alerts primarily based on risk to the public. The changes were implemented as part of the regulator’s response to a report published earlier in the year outlining the toll the regulatory complaints process could take on practitioners. 

This included reports of 20 instances of serious self-harm or suicide by practitioners under review in four years.  

According to a communique published on Wednesday from the annual AHPRA, AMA and Medical Board of Australia roundtable at the end of 2023, there has been progress in how notifications were being addressed. 

This included a five percentage-point increase in the number of notifications deemed as “not a ground for a notification”, to almost 10%, since the procedural changes were implemented. 

And lower risk notifications are also being closed sooner. Over half of these cases were closed within three months from Q1 2023 and Q1 2024, up from 37%. 

The number of cases related to practitioners with high-risk health impairments – which are now prioritised for assessment – that were closed within three months has more than tripled over the same period to 38%. 

“Concerns about the health of a practitioner are managed by [AHPRA’s] well-trained health management team who are focused on a quick resolution where possible,” read the communique. 

The average number of cases considered to be possible grounds for misconduct that were referred for formal investigation dropped from 93 per month prior to the changes, to an average of 20. 

In addition, cases under formal investigation were now receiving “more action”, which according to AHPRA “indicates that they are the correct cases to investigate”. 

Rates of “no further action” for these cases have dropped five percentage points, but remains at 59%, and tribunal referrals are down five percentage points at 16%. 

As part of their proposed changes, AHPRA said they would refer on matters “better handled by another agency”. 

This resulted in a jump in consumer complaints resolved by other health complaints entities, from 46% to 51%.  

“As a consequence of these changes, there have been significant reductions in time frames for closing matters, particularly where regulatory action is not necessary,” said AHPRA. 

“The data show that 81% of cases are being closed within six months in 2023/24 as compared to 57% in 2022/23 and 71% in 21/22.” 

Apparently, positive sentiment about the process is also on the rise, with 62% of practitioner under investigation being “satisfied” with the process.  

Practitioners under investigation will soon be able to track the stage of their case through a dashboard, added AHPRA.  

But the AMA still had concerns. 

It noted that international medical graduates were feeling more at risk of complaint and investigation. 

On that topic, the MBA outlined plans to streamline IMG processes to reduce red tape in preparation for the final Kruk report, which had not been published at the time. 

This included, “a review of: the specialist IMG pathway and development of a fast track streamlined pathway for practitioners with specific qualifications, the competent authority pathway – particularly focusing on broadening the experiential component and the regulatory instruments to support these changes such as registration standards and supervision guidelines”. 

AHPRA will continue to enact the 15 recommendations and 33 actions made by the expert advisory group tasked with improving understanding of how AHPRA’s regulatory actions contribute to practitioner distress, it said. 

The group discussed the importance of working with stakeholders for implementation and “the National Boards’ goal to become a more humane, while still effective regulator”. 

In other news, in late 2022 an amendment passed allowing AHPRA and the National Boards to make public statements about doctors’ conduct under certain circumstances, namely to protect public safety, read the communique. 

To date, the power has not been used but the AMA was reassured by AHPRA that the power would be used as a rarity, and generally in the case of an unregistered person. 

The group also discussed the progress made in implementing the recommendations of the review of medical practitioners who perform cosmetic surgery. 

“About 100 audits have been conducted to date,” read the communique. 

“The Board has taken regulatory action including imposition of conditions and cautions in some instances.  

“Practitioners are given an opportunity to fix their advertising before regulatory action is taken.” 

Currently there are 300 open notifications about 117 practitioners under review, read the communique. 

“AHPRA and National Boards are consulting on draft guidelines about non-surgical cosmetic procedures and encourage stakeholders to provide feedback,” noted the communique. 

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