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Government rules out compensation for vexatious complaints


Doug Hendrie


30/08/2018 1:44:31 PM

The Federal Government has said it will not provide compensation for doctors who have been the subject of a vexatious complaint.

While acknowledging vexatious complaints have a significant impact on practitioners, the Government found that ‘greater risk is posed to the public from people not reporting their concerns’.
While acknowledging vexatious complaints have a significant impact on practitioners, the Government found that ‘greater risk is posed to the public from people not reporting their concerns’.

Last year’s Senate committee inquiry into complaints mechanisms administered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the 15 national boards recommended the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council consider compensation for vexatious complaints.
 
However, the Federal Government rejected that approach in its response, handed down last week, stating that where a complaint was clearly vexatious, the regulators had the ability to take no further action. 
 
‘Where legitimate public safety concerns are raised, AHPRA and the national boards have a responsibility to investigate,’ the Government response states.
 
‘The currently available evidence suggests that the incidence of vexatious notifications is very low,
and that greater risk is posed to the public from people not reporting their concerns.
 
‘It is acknowledged however that vexatious notifications can have a significant impact on practitioners.’
 
But the Government did open the door to greater rights for the person making a complaint to appeal a national board’s decision, saying that all state and federal governments are considering the issue.
 
The committee report was critical of the current complaints method, concluding that healthcare practitioners had ‘lost confidence’ in the AHPRA-overseen process.
 
Dozens of medical practitioners told the inquiry they had been bullied by colleagues who used the complaint system maliciously.
 
In its submission on the subject, the RACGP stated that many of its members felt AHPRA investigators and/or Medical Board of Australia members ‘do not have sufficient medical experience and/or knowledge of general practice to understand the nature or seriousness of a complaint’.
 
The committee of inquiry recommended that AHPRA and the national boards ‘institute mechanisms to ensure appropriate clinical peer advice is obtained at the earliest possible opportunity in the management of a notification’, and that such peer advice is better renumerated.
 
The committee also called on AHPRA and the boards to develop and publish a framework for identifying and dealing with vexatious complaints.
 
The Government agreed to seek updates from AHPRA as to how it was addressing these recommendations.
 
The inquiry comes after years of controversy and complaint over the medical complaints process, with many GPs voicing their concerns to the RACGP.
 
The Medical Board of Australia – one of the National Boards supported by AHPRA – recently backed down on a controversial decision to publish the names of healthcare professionals who had experienced disciplinary hearings, even if no adverse findings had been made.
 
At an inquiry hearing in March last year, then-RACGP Vice President Dr Edwin Kruys told the committee that GPs felt many investigations, ‘Seemingly already assume guilt, going against the system of natural justice’.
 
‘The process is incredibly stressful for most GPs, and it appears that there is room for a lot of cultural change within AHPRA … [T]he big issue is that it is perceived as extremely punitive,’ he told the committee.
 
The RACGP’s submission was based on feedback from GPs who felt that there was a lack of balance in the current system.
 
‘Regardless of whether a doctor is at fault, the AHPRA complaints process is stressful and onerous. It involves a large time commitment and can have significant reputational and professional consequences,’ the RACGP submission states.
 
‘Considering the stress and consequences involved with the current process, our members are particularly concerned that vexatious or frivolous complaints are progressing to the investigation stage.’
 
The RACGP also called for better communication and less uncertainty about the complaints process.
 
The Government noted that AHPRA ‘is continuing to make improvements to its processes with the aim of improving the timeliness of the notifications process’.

More than three-quarters of complaints made against medical practitioners in 2016–17 resulted in no further action being taken.
 
AHPRA earlier this year commissioned research from the University of Melbourne, which showed that vexatious complaints actually accounted for less than 1% of complaints.



AHPRA complaints mechanisms senate inquiry vexatious complaints



Stuart   1/03/2019 9:56:49 PM

I have no confidence in AHPRAs “independent” research. Were there a significant number of practising clinicians involved in the research? Also what is the point of a vexatious complaint to the complainant if it can easily be found to be vexatious? It defeats the object. Often the point of vexatious complaints is to cause stress to the defendant so they are framed in a legitimate manner. It’s the patients word against the clinician. No research would be able to pick up these cases with confidence.


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