Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency performance (2.04.2014)

Written on the 14 April 2014

Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee: Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency performance

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am very pleased to rise to speak to report no. 2 entitled Inquiry into the Performance of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, dated March 2014, which was tabled in the chamber only last month. The inquiry was undertaken by the Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee, and a number of members of this house participated. The inquiry was conducted over about 16 months, and it exposed some very real concerns held by the Victorian public that were raised in submissions. Some aspects were raised by well-respected health professionals and a number of other interested stakeholders who had input into this report. I was very pleased to table the report and highlight some of the issues.

During the inquiry the major focus of the evidence related to the complaints system. In my contribution I raise an important issue surrounding the future support of health programs for doctors, nurses and midwives. The very important programs were well known among those health professionals and were established under the previous state-based health practitioner regulation system. The Victorian doctors health program was established in 2000 by the Australian Medical Association and the previous medical board, and the nurses and midwives health program was established in 2006.

The programs were established to support doctors, nurses, midwives and students who may have had health problems such as drug-and-alcohol related problems or mental health issues.

It was noted that in doing so their purpose was not only to further enhance the productivity of our health services but also to give those people the support they require, which is sometimes in very short supply for practitioners who deal with very serious issues, and try to maintain the numbers in those particular areas.

The Victorian doctors health program and the nursing and midwifery health program are both considered to be vital to productivity and wellbeing if we are to maintain a productive and high-quality health service in Victoria. In turn, though the support given to health professionals by these programs is high, the standard of quality in patient care needs to be maintained. It was highlighted by a number of witnesses who came before the committee that that was the case. Evidence to the committee suggested that there was concern from witnesses that the Victorian service would no longer be funded under the national scheme or that it might become nationally focused, losing the very important Victorian focus.
In its evidence to the inquiry the Victorian Department of Health considered that there is not the same impetus for continuing the health programs, including the nursing and midwifery health program, as there was under the previous state-based system. This statement appears at page 81 of the report. The former Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria highlighted the fact that it funded the Victorian Doctors Health Program through a levy of approximately $25 per registered medical practitioner in Victoria. Evidence from the Australian Medical Association Victoria in relation to the doctors health program is quoted at page 80 of the report as follows:

The Victorian medical board was able to run the program on a budget of approximately $25 per registered practitioner in Victoria; however, the implementation of the national registration scheme has meant that the state board can no longer continue to do so. Former Victorian health minister Daniel Andrews agreed to fund the program for the first three years of the national scheme; however, this funding is set to expire at June 2013. The Medical Board of Australia has allocated some interim funding of $350 000 for its continuation over 2013-14 ...
I do not have time in my contribution to explore this further, but I want to make a further comment in relation to this because it is really important. It is the doctors health program I am talking about at this particular point, and the committee made recommendations that supported it. But there was some real and significant evidence from various witnesses who came before us in support of continuing a doctors health program.

Indeed that was established as we went through the inquiry, and at the final public hearing on 11 December the chair of the Medical Board of Australia reaffirmed its commitment to a future national health program specific to the needs of doctors.

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