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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Health Practitioner Appeals


When a concern is raised about a health practitioner, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is required to investigate it. There is a range of possible outcomes after a concern is raised and a practitioner has a right to appeal some outcomes to a tribunal in their state or territory.

Registration

Health Practitioner Regulation National Law is contained in a corresponding Act for every state and territory. AHPRA helps national boards to implement the law and make decisions by collecting evidence and conducting investigations.  National boards set registration standards for practitioners, and require them to renew their registration annually to ensure standards are maintained.

Professions which are regulated by a corresponding national board are:

  • chiropractors;
  • dental workers (including dentists, dental hygienists, dental prosthetists and dental therapists);
  • medical practitioners;
  • nurses and midwives;
  • optometrists;
  • osteopaths;
  • pharmacists;
  • physiotherapists
  • podiatrists;
  • psychologists;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals;
  • Chinese medicine workers;
  • medical radiation workers; and
  • occupational therapists.

Notifications by the public

A person can register a concern with AHPRA or a national board if the person believes a practitioner:

  • is placing the public at risk;
  • is practising in an unsafe way;
  • has a health problem that is impairing their judgments about patients.

If a concern has been raised about a practitioner, that person is advised by phone, then in writing, by AHPRA. The agency cannot offer advice because this may:

  • prejudice an investigation;
  • risk a person’s safety;
  • place a person at risk of intimidation.

A practitioner subject to a notification should engage the support of professional associations, provide AHPRA with information promptly, and give an employer permission to share information to verify details.

If a national board intends to restrict or suspend a practitioner’s registration, the person will be advised in writing and allowed to respond before such action is taken.

Possible outcomes

Some concerns can be decided by a national board panel, either a health panel or performance and professional standards panel;  and others can be decided only by a tribunal.

A concern can be referred directly to a tribunal if the matter is serious, such as an allegation of professional misconduct. Also a practitioner can ask a panel to refer the matter to a tribunal rather than have the panel decide it.

Outcomes from the reporting of a concern include undertakings, conditions, suspensions, reprimands and cancellation.

Undertakings

A national board can accept (but cannot seek) an undertaking from a practitioner to do something or to refrain from doing something to protect the public. The undertaking is a legal obligation and cannot be appealed.

Conditions

A national board can impose a condition on a practitioner’s registration, whether or not they consent. This can happen when, for instance, a practitioner is returning to practice after a break, or when their conduct has been unacceptable. Common conditions include supervision, reporting, or further education or training.

Suspension

A national board or tribunal can suspend a practitioner’s registration, which means the person cannot practise until a national board or tribunal revokes the suspension.

Reprimand

A national board or tribunal can issue a reprimand – a formal rebuke or expression of disapproval – for unacceptable action. A reprimand is published on a national register of practitioners.

Cancellation of registration

If a practitioner’s registration is cancelled, they cannot practise in in that profession in any part of Australia. Only a court or tribunal can cancel a registration. The cancellation appears on a national cancelled health practitioners register.

AHPRA figures show more than 70% of notifications result in no action from a national board, 12% result in practice restrictions for a practitioner, and 1% result in practitioner registration suspension or cancellation.

Appeal to a tribunal

Under the National Law, a practitioner can appeal a decision to:

  • impose or change a condition on their registration;
  • refuse to charge or remove a condition on their registration;
  • refuse to change or revoke an undertaking from them to the board;
  • suspend their registration.

A practitioner can appeal a decision by a panel to:

  • impose a condition on their registration;
  • suspend their registration (health panel);
  • reprimand them (performance and professional standards panel).

Only the practitioner involved can appeal a matter, not a person who raises a concern or a patient.

Appeal tribunals

Appeal tribunals for each state and territory are the Civil and Administrative Tribunal in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria; the State Administrative Tribunal in Western Australia; and the Health Practitioners Tribunal in Tasmania.

Hearings are usually open to the public and published on the tribunal’s website and sometime by AHPRA.

Tribunal decisions

After hearing a matter, the tribunal can:

  • affirm the decision;
  • amend the decision;
  • substitute the decision with one of its own.

Costs

The tribunal can make an order for costs as it sees fit. For instance, it can order that practitioner pays the board’s costs, or that the board pay the practitioner’s costs.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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