AHPRA more than halves use of investigation powers

Jolyon Attwooll

29/05/2023 4:01:07 PM

The RACGP President welcomes the shift, which follows college advocacy – but says more needs to be done to cut the time to resolve notifications.

Pile of old-fashioned files
AHPRA says it has tried to limit the use of investigations to serious allegations that could be referred to an independent panel or tribunal.

AHPRA’s use of its investigatory powers when reviewing notifications involving medical practitioners has fallen by more than half, the regulator has said.
Figures supplied to newsGP recorded the number of cases involving medical practitioners that ‘relied on investigation powers’ as 114 each month on average in 2020.
The regulator reports that number has fallen to 47 per month on average in 2023, a reduction of 59%.
AHPRA says the move is designed to shift the use of investigatory powers towards more serious complaints.
‘We have sought to limit the use of investigations to serious allegations that could amount to referral to an independent panel or tribunal,’ a spokesperson told newsGP in a statement.
‘For less serious concerns, we are focused on understanding risks and whether there are sufficient controls in place to manage them.
‘In gathering information to decide whether a regulatory response is required, we are finding alternative ways to engage with practitioners, workplaces and their advocates that do not require the use of investigation powers.
‘We have also worked with stakeholders to improve information sharing arrangements so that the need for the use of investigation powers is lower.’
In its statement, AHPRA also distinguished between the use of investigation powers and formal investigations, saying that only around half of the cases that rely on the use of investigation powers are managed by the formal investigations team.
It said these currently amount to an average of 25 each month.
‘These cases involve allegations which, if proven, are likely to be referred to independent tribunals,’ they stated.
‘In the other approximately 22 cases per month, investigation powers are needed to compel individual pieces of information even though there is a low likelihood of the need for referral to tribunal.’
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said the reduction is a welcome shift that has come in the wake of sustained college advocacy.
‘We’re pleased that the Medical Board of Australia has taken our feedback on board,’ Dr Higgins told newsGP
‘We’ve had significant concerns about the way complaints are looked into for many years, and we know how devastating the impact of a notification can be on GPs.
‘When the process is drawn out without good cause, it creates even more unnecessary stress and administration at the cost of vital clinical work.
‘These steps will mean more GPs who do not need to have an investigation hanging over their heads should be able to get on with their work at an earlier stage.’
AHPRA also said reforms to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law which recently came into force will help the management of complaints.
Changes which came into effect on 15 May allow AHPRA and the national boards to request information, including patient records, at an early stage of the process without needing powers given to investigators under National Law.
‘These changes to the law will help us manage complaints more efficiently and in ways that cause less stress to practitioners,’ an AHRPA spokesperson said.
‘They also ensure protection for individuals or entities to provide the information without contravening privacy laws.’ 
Despite the reduction in investigations, the time to resolve notifications remains a significant issue for GPs. Earlier this year, RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett described how a trivial complaint against him took almost a year to resolve fully.
‘It’s probably a combination of resourcing and also the way the complaints are approached,’ he previously told newsGP.
Last year, a Senate inquiry recommended that AHPRA and the national boards analyse the reasons behind a ‘protracted’ notifications process, as well as identify ‘ways to further improve timeliness’.
AHPRA has said a program of work has been introduced to reduce the average amount of time to resolve notifications.
It gives the example of a triage committee set up by the Medical Board of Australia in 2022 designed to resolve lower risk concerns more quickly.
AHPRA also pointed towards its most recent annual report, which showed around 40% of notifications are closed within three months and more than 70% in less than six months.  
The report does not provide details for the resolution of complaints concerning GPs specifically.
Dr Higgins, who has recently discussed the issue of notifications with Dr Anne Tonkin, the Chair of the Medical Board of Australia, believes there are significant signs of improvement.
‘We still have a long way to go before the notifications process works as it should – but there is no doubt the triaging process is helping, and I hope these reforms continue to have an impact,’ she said.
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Dr Trevor David Hoffman   30/05/2023 12:03:11 PM

More spin from AHPRA, when a simple cure would have sufficed = simply require complaints to be in the form of a statutory declaration. The various State Medical Boards followed that protocol for at least 50 years before the nightmare called AHPRA came on the scene

Dr J   30/05/2023 12:40:10 PM

This so called AHPRA is a baseless , ruthless and very corrupt organisation… why this so called government is not calling for a royal commission to see how they are abusing there powers and bullying the doctors … just because they have no one to watch over they will you what ever they want??? Seriously … shame on this so called AHPRA … it should be modified and make it more sensible