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GPs renew call for change to mandatory reporting


Jolyon Attwooll


25/06/2021 5:50:12 PM

The stressors of COVID-19 have sharpened the resolve of the RACGP’s Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements to challenge the law and protect GPs.

Stressed doctor.
GPs are reporting a knock-on effect from the skyrocketing levels of mental health issues in the community.

Legislation passed in Queensland in 2019, applicable to all states apart from Western Australia, upheld laws that mean healthcare professionals face the possibility of their health issues being flagged if their treating practitioner has ‘reasonable belief’ that their condition puts the public at risk.
 
The RACGP has long opposed the controversial requirement, and RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements continued his vocal advocacy for change this week on the ABC’s ‘Australia Wide’ program.
 
‘That’s just silly wording – it’s so ambiguous,’ he told newsGP.
 
‘We’re not saying lots of people are being reported because of the law. What we’re saying is the fact that [the word] “mandatory” … is a barrier. Doctors are just not seeking care.’
 
Dr Clements said the legislation makes it difficult for GPs to make the call about whether to seek treatment, given the risk of mandatory reporting, when they have concerns about their own mental wellbeing.
 
‘You’re trying to make that decision when you are already under the weather, when you’re at your worst,’ he said.
 
A high doctor suicide rate over the past year in one regional Queensland town has made Dr Clements’ resolve to change the law all the more urgent.
 
‘I am just aware that my rural members are working harder than ever and need this protection more than ever,’ he said.
 
‘We need to work with the other advocacy agencies like the AMA. It’s about doctor support and advocacy.

‘We need the Queensland State Government to amend their wording and recognise the Western Australian wording hasn’t led to any incidents, that we are aware of, where practitioners have practiced while impaired.’
 
Another Queensland GP, Dr Chris Stelmaschuk says the profession as a whole is currently under immense stress.
 
‘It doesn’t matter how much training you do to leave work at work,’ he told the ABC. ‘We’re all human; we’ve got the best interests of our patients at heart and we can’t help but take a lot of that stuff back with us.
 
‘And it does build up over time. If you’re taking it home, it can affect your home life – [it’s a] bit of a cycle really.’
 
Dr Stelmaschuk said there is a greater risk of GPs leaving the profession if the right supports are not in place.
 
‘When that burden becomes too much, there’s a few options, and leaving is one of them,’ he said. ‘If we don’t have the support networks around us, it all falls apart.’
 
Dr Ebonney van der Meer is a GP in Cooktown, Queensland. She has advanced skills in mental health, and says issues in the community have ‘skyrocketed’ since the pandemic began.
 
‘GPs are at the coalface for managing that – and that takes a toll on your own mental health,’ she told newsGP.
 
Dr van der Meer said the mandatory reporting law is ‘very much’ at the forefront of GPs’ minds, including ‘how much they choose to disclose and what they choose to disclose’.
 
‘In my own practice, the burnout and fatigue issues with the pressure everyone is under at the moment is becoming unmanageable,’ she said.
 
‘It would be great if there were more focus and funding in that space.’

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RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements says the call to change mandatory reporting requirements is about doctor support and advocacy.
 
Previous attempts to modify the mandatory reporting law – known as the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 – have been unsuccessful.
 
As part of the legislative process, the RACGP made a submission urging for the laws to be modified to reflect the Western Australian legal framework.
 
In that state, practitioners are not legally obliged to report a health professional under their care, but can do so voluntarily.
 
An amended bill, which the RACGP contended would do more to support the health of GPs, was narrowly defeated in the Queensland parliament in February 2019.
 
Other healthcare organisations have also urged the mandatory reporting clause to be dropped.
 
New mandatory reporting guidelines, published on the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency website, came into effect last year, but the RACGP remains unconvinced that they have struck an appropriate balance between protecting the public and allowing healthcare professionals to seek help for mental health concerns.
 
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A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   26/06/2021 8:38:59 PM

I heartily agree. I owe my life to my medical colleagues several time over.
If I had delayed or hesitated to seek help, I would not be writing this.
Doctors' health is poor anyway probably because of denial.
To add fear to the mix is to doom us.
Why should we be treated as expendable by a society we have dedicated our lives to?