Launceston surgeon Gary Fettke’s experience with a Senate inquiry has triggered a warning to all Commonwealth agencies to be careful when dealing with witnesses.
The inquiry, which included a case study of Mr Fettke, found practitioners and victims had lost confidence in the nation’s medical watchdog’s administered process.
“It is not sufficient that the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency is confident that its processes are robust,” the Senate report said.
“Everyone who uses the complaints process must be able to have confidence that the system is fair, rigorous, transparent and timely.”
A statement from the AHPRA said it would consider the Senate’s recommendations.
“The AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia have noted the report of the Senate Standing Committee on community affairs into complaints management.”
Less than an hour after Mr Fettke gave evidence to the committee on November 1 last year, he was notified of a decision by the Tasmanian Board of the Medical Board of Australia to caution him. Then, on November 16, AHPRA issued a media release about his case.
Mr Fettke, who is an orthopaedic surgeon and advocate of a low carbohydrate diet, wrote to the Senate committee asking them to investigate the board and AHPRA’s handling of his case.
He asked whether the agency and board had breached parliamentary privilege by attempting to intimidate, punish, bully or harass him.
AHPRA advised the committee there was no relationship between the timing of the notification, and that the media release was issued to combat a “level of misinformation” in the media about the case.
The committee could not establish a clear link between Mr Fettke giving evidence to the committee and the issuing of the notice.
“However, from an administrative perspective, issuing the notice on the same day that a witness provided evidence to the committee seems either a remarkable coincidence or a remarkable oversight,” the Senate report said.
The Senate committee made 14 recommendations in its report, tabled on Wednesday evening.
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