Butler turns magnifying glass on AHPRA

3 minute read

The health practitioners’ regulation agency is about to feel the heat after months of scrutiny.

Sustained pressure from media outlets, including TMR, has finally kicked the federal government into action, with Health Minister Mark Butler announcing a review into AHPRA.

Reports of bullying, backlogs, overwork and harassment of employees, and a “lack of humanity” have plagued the health practitioners’ regulator for years, but attacks have ramped up of late, particularly in the Nine Newspapers after they obtained a leaked report from third-party consultants, meant only for AHPRA eyes.

Yesterday, Mr Butler said he would write to the chair of the Health Ministers’ Meeting – currently Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’ath – to put regulatory reform on the agenda.

AHPRA, which was formed in 2010, is run via a framework that is the responsibility of the states and the territories, as well as the federal government.

“But if that framework is falling short of protecting patient safety, then Australians rightly expect governments at all levels to work to strengthen it,” Minister Butler told Nine Newspapers.

“I am writing to the chair of the Health Ministers’ Meeting to put this issue on the agenda at our next meeting, including a rapid review of the response by jurisdictions to previous reviews.”

The AMA told TMR that it “welcomed the review”.

“We will be making a submission to it focusing on more timely investigation processes and ensuring that practitioners are treated fairly,” a spokesperson said.

This is not the first time AHPRA has been put under the magnifying glass, but follows a succession of parliamentary inquiries.

The latest, a 2021 Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry, focused on the registration process; the handling and investigation of notifications; and the impact on health practitioners subject to notifications. That inquiry made 12 recommendations, some of which have yet to be acted upon.

In July 2022, the Victorian branch of the AMA called for a Royal Commission into AHPRA following the agency’s move to impose restrictions on West Australian GP Dr David Berger because of his outspoken views on covid protections on Twitter. That lead to an open letter by 18 prominent health practitioners – including Professor Raina Macintyre, Professor Kerryn Phelps and Scientia Professor Guy Marks – calling for an independent inquiry into AHPRA.

“This is a matter that needs to be discussed within the medical profession to get the balance and focus of AHPRA’s activities right, in the interest of freedom of speech, professional conduct and public safety,” Professor Phelps said at the time.

Responding to a Nine Newspapers’ allegation that AHPRA was allowing health practitioners who had been found guilty of sexual harassment to continue practising, Minister Butler said Australians “rightly expect their health practitioners to be held to the highest standard and expect regulators to protect and uphold those standards”.

“Malpractice and sexual misconduct in any setting is abhorrent, but particularly so in a healthcare setting, where people are often in vulnerable positions with someone they trust.” A spokesperson for AHPRA told TMR that “we have no comment at this stage”.

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