AHPRA proposes significant reforms to better protect patients from sexual misconduct in healthcare

Image shows the torso of a doctor or medical professional standing in the corridor of a hospital or healthcare facility. They are wearing a white medical jacket and shirt and have a stethoscope peeking out of their hip pocket. They are holding an iPad or digital tablet in their hands.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has released a blueprint for its plans to better protect patients from sexual misconduct in healthcare, against the background of reports which scrutinise its previous handlings of sexual misconduct complaints. While sexual boundary violations constitute only a very small percentage of complaints made to AHPRA (0.1% according to AHPRA's most recent annual report of 2021/2022), they are most often the more serious of complaints with a permanent and tangible impact upon the public's trust in the health profession.

The public release, which has been sent to all states and territories, foreshadows reforms to raise the bar for patient safety and to increase transparency and improve support for victims of sexual misconduct.

To achieve this, AHPRA and the National Boards intend to:

  • expand support and information services for victims and witnesses of sexual misconduct in order to support them through the regulatory and tribunal process, including by introducing a Charter of Rights for those who have experienced professional misconduct
  • increase the role of community members in decision-making committees about practitioner misconduct (which, traditionally, has only involved other health professionals)
  • seek amendments to the National Law requiring the process for practitioner reinstatement to be a public process in all jurisdictions
  • appeal for the publication of increased information on the National Register of Practitioners to make reference to previous sexual misconduct; and
  • establish a new shared governance arrangement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies to improve processes for those groups.

These proposed changes, if implemented, are likely to be among the most significant for AHPRA since it was established in 2010.

The practical impact for health practitioners is that they are likely to be subjected to an increased level of public scrutiny and be more accountable to the alleged victims or witnesses in the context of complaints for sexual misconduct.

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