NSW Health Minister pushing for changes to mandatory reporting laws

Amanda Lyons

13/03/2018 2:36:14 PM

New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard wants doctors to be able to address their issues of mental health without fear of professional consequences.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has been clear in his belief that a uniform approach to mandatory reporting is needed throughout the country.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has been clear in his belief that a uniform approach to mandatory reporting is needed throughout the country.

‘Doctors should get the same benefits as every other patient. And that is, when they have a mental health issue they should be able to talk to their practitioner in privacy and know they can have their mental health condition addressed without necessarily losing their job,’ Minister Hazzard told the ABC.
While cultures within medicine have come under criticism in terms of contributing to mental health issues for practitioners, the implementation of mandatory reporting laws – where doctors often fear being reported following disclosure of common mental health issues such as anxiety and/or depression – has also been cited as a major obstacle to doctors seeking help, leading to calls for change.
Western Australia is currently the only Australian state or territory that allows an exemption of doctor-patients from mandatory reporting, but Minister Hazzard is working to change this situation. He said he will first raise the issue at this month’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, and also stated that the NSW government will look towards amending its own laws in the event a national solution cannot be agreed upon.
RACGP Vice President and Chair of RACGP NSW&ACT Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe would also like to see national legislation amended in line with recommendations made by the Medical Council of New South Wales and the model adopted by Western Australia, in which practitioners who provide care to other healthcare professionals are exempt from mandatory reporting.
‘We’ve got national registration, we need to have a national approach to how we safeguard our mental health wellbeing, support and mandatory reporting requirements,’ she told newsGP. ‘This should not be variable state to state.’
According to Associate Professor Hespe, the ambiguity of current mandatory reporting laws in most states and territories is a major problem.
‘At what point are doctors supposed to report a doctor-patient?’ Associate Professor Hespe said. ‘If a doctor has an inkling of suspicion their doctor-patient is not functioning 100%, does that mean they have to report them, so that then they are investigated and have a mark on their name in a public record way?
‘That [ambiguity] means that doctors says, “I know I need assistance in how I’m dealing with the stresses of daily life, but I’m not going to talk about this, this is not something I want shared”.’
Although some fear changes to mandatory reporting laws may expose patients to greater risk, Associate Professor Hespe believes the opposite is true.
‘It is about making sure that doctors who are quite safe to practise, but need assistance with their mental health, can access appropriate mental health care support in order to keep them in practice and safe, rather than making them feel isolated and unsupported and therefore at higher risk of suicide,’ she said.
‘If there’s no mandatory reporting, I think it will allow doctors to be more open in their discussions about the issues they might struggle with.’

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