Doctors resist push to name and shame those under investigation for misconduct

Doctors are pushing back against new laws that would enable the health regulator to name and shame those accused of misconduct, but patient advocates say transparency is needed to protect the public.

Australian Medical Association President Omar Khorshid said the proposed change, part of a suite of amendments to the national health practitioner law, is a breach of natural justice and will put doctors at risk of having their reputations destroyed.

The proposal to allow doctors accused of misconduct to be named is part of a suite of amendments backed by state and territory health ministers.Credit:iStock

“It creates a situation where the doctor’s guilty until proven innocent,” Khorshid said.

Australian Patients Association chief executive Stephen Mason said the names of doctors being investigated by health authorities should be made public so patients could make informed decisions – particularly in the poorly regulated, billion-dollar cosmetic surgery industry.

“Often, these disputes are taking over 12 months to be investigated,” Mason said.

During that time, he said, cosmetic surgeons with questionable qualifications performing as many as six procedures a day could do significant harm to patients who could be “injured irreparably” while undergoing tummy tucks, breast implants and liposuction.

Khorshid said the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Agency already had the power to withdraw a doctor’s registration to stop them from practising while an investigation was under way.

“They’ve already got the tools they need to protect the public if there’s a major risk to public safety,” he said.

Mason said the medical complaint system was “heavily loaded in favour of the doctor or the surgeon, who’ve got the best barristers and solicitors” while the patient faced “an uphill battle … after a disastrous treatment”.

“We get so many complaints about cosmetic surgery, and often you find that the doctor wasn’t a surgeon – they claimed to be a surgeon, but they weren’t,” he said.

AHPRA is midway through an inquiry into the cosmetic surgery industry, launched after The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age lifted the lid on allegations of misconduct by some surgeons.

The proposal to allow accused doctors to be named is part of a suite of amendments backed by state and territory health ministers in February.

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 is being considered by a parliamentary committee inquiry in Queensland, the host jurisdiction for the national scheme regulating doctors, where a public hearing will be held on Wednesday.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the change to allow accused doctors to be named was about keeping the public safe by flagging “the potential health risk posed by an individual” when necessary to protect patients from a practitioner who “poses a serious risk”.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he would consult further before deciding whether to implement the amendments, which will be automatically adopted in Victoria if the bill passes through the Queensland parliament.

Mason said naming doctors under investigation would not result in a deluge of unsubstantiated accusations, arguing that defamation laws would serve as a disincentive to malicious claims.

“It’ll keep some doctors and surgeons on their toes,” he said.

The APA wants a public, searchable register for all healthcare professionals listing their qualifications, experience and detailed findings of any official complaints against them.

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