Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency performance (7.05.2014)

Written on the 13 May 2014

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

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I rise to speak on the report of the inquiry into the performance of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency that was conducted by the Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee and tabled in this place in March this year. My colleague Mr O'Brien has just spoken on the report, and I commend him on the work he undertook during the course of the inquiry. He made a great contribution and provided valuable input throughout its course.

I have previously mentioned in this house the very important element of the Victorian doctors health program. Throughout the course of the inquiry we heard evidence highlighting the value of the doctors health program being in place.

Indeed on the final day of hearing evidence at the inquiry, the committee was very pleased to hear a commitment from the chair of the Medical Board of Australia that reaffirmed a future national health program specific to the needs of doctors. The chair of the medical board said the board had currently commissioned a piece to look at what that model should look at and what its governance model and accountability should be, and was setting aside funding for a national doctors health program in all states and territories. How that will work structurally with the current state programs is an issue on the table for us to work through in conjunction with the profession, but we have a strong commitment to an equitable offer for the delivery of doctors health programs around the country.

There was also evidence to the committee that suggested the nurses and midwives health program provided valuable services to nurses and midwives throughout Victoria. However, the long-term sustainability of this program is uncertain. Page 84 of the report highlights evidence to the committee that the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program (NMHP), which started its operation in 2006, provides:

... screening, assessment, referrals, individual support sessions and groups to all nurses, midwives and students of nursing and midwifery in Victoria.

The program was previously funded by Victorian nurse registration through the former Nursing Board of Victoria, with funding equating to $5.69 per registrant annually. Approximately 600 nurses had accessed the program in the first five years of its existence, and of those at least 63 per cent have either returned to work or been able to stay at work. There was important evidence in relation to the importance of this program.

The Australian Nursing Federation submission was clear about the importance of the service. It stated that:

... importantly this service helps to provide protection to the Victorian public. This provides the benefit/protection to the Victorian public in that practitioners are supported through these processes in a way that allows them to either continue to practise or facilitates the return to practice ...
The committee was asked to look at how the performance of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) was affecting the Victorian public. The report states:

Consistent with concerns raised by medical practitioners, the NMHP asserts that numerous members are aggrieved that their registration fees have almost doubled since the move from state registration to national registration.

Indeed some medical practitioners asserted that they were receiving fewer services, including the prospect of no health programs. This is an important issue to highlight. The committee also received evidence that the national board had decided to extend funding of the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program to 30 June 2016 while it examines best practice in the role of national and international regulators in relation to referral treatment and rehabilitation programs for health practitioners.

At the inquiry's public hearing on 11 December 2013, AHPRA said it could not give the same commitment to a similar professional specific health program to support nurses and midwives. There is some uncertainty that still remains about this important program, and that was of concern to many submitters to the inquiry.

I urge the Minister for Health to take on board the recommendation provided in this report.

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