Senate committee finds 'systematic issues' with medical watchdog

RECOMMENDATIONS: A Senate committee has made 14 recommendations following an inquiry into the complaints mechanism administered under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.

RECOMMENDATIONS: A Senate committee has made 14 recommendations following an inquiry into the complaints mechanism administered under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson says the nation’s medical watchdog needs a “pretty radical change”.

It comes after a Senate inquiry investigated allegations of bullying and harassment by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and the Medical Board of Australia.

Launceston orthopedic surgeon Dr Gary Fettke, who has been a long-time advocate of a low carbohydrate diet, gave evidence to the Senate committee on November 1 last year about his experience being investigated by the agency.

Less than an hour after giving evidence, he was notified of a decision by the Tasmanian Board of the Medical Board of Australia to caution him.

On November 16, AHPRA issued a media release about his case.

Dr Fettke then asked the committee to look into whether there had been a breach of parliamentary privilege.

The Senate committee made 14 recommendations following the inquiry, which were released last week.

AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia said they would consider the recommendations.

“AHPRA have noted the report of the Senate standing committee on community affairs into complaints management,” a statement from the agency said.

Senator Whish-Wilson, who was a participating member of the inquiry, said Dr Fettke’s experience was used as a case study.

“The system’s in need of pretty radical change and Dr Fettke from Launceston - his personal situation was very important to the committee because it was used as a case study,” he said.

“It represented what we thought were systemic issues across the country, not just in Tasmania, and that is that the investigations process is very combatic, very secretive, and didn’t have the trust of medical practitioners or even the notifiers, or, the victims.”

Allegations were made to the committee that the system was open to “vexatious claims and conflicts of interest” within the investigations process, Senator Whish-Wilson said.

“The clear evidence was that a number of medical practitioners felt that this essentially just ruined their reputations and in many cases, even their lives - their physical and mental wellbeing.”

In some cases, investigations lasted up to four years.

“They kept snowballing and going in different directions - the investigator would ask them to provide responses and evidence on one thing and then they’d move the goal post and ask them to provide information on something else.”

“The medical practitioners felt they were being harassed and bullied by the regulator.”

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