THE IEMMA government has introduced new legislation which will make it mandatory for medical practitioners to report serious misconduct by their professional colleagues.
The amendments to the Medical Practice Amendment Bill (NSW) aim to provide better protection for patients, and will also introduce automatic suspensions for doctors who breach certain conditions on their registration.
Minister for Health Reba Meagher believes New South Wales now has the strongest legislation in the country available to protect patients against misconduct by doctors.
The push for mandatory reporting is in response to the ongoing public perception that the medical profession puts the protection of its own reputation ahead of the welfare of patients, Meagher said.
“A code of conduct that set a professional and ethical obligation for medical professionals to report was introduced in July 2005, but the public perception of a ‘closed shop’ culture and of a profession that protects its own remains in place,” the minister said.
The legislative changes implement recommendations of a review by Justice Deirdre O’Conner, initiated by the State Government in 2007 following revelations about the gross misconduct of Dr Graeme Reeves.
Reporting standards are strict. Practitioners will be required to have a reasonable belief that the alleged misconduct has occurred, not just a suspicion. This Bill also aims to allow professional disciplinary bodies — including the NSW Medical Board, Health Care Complaints Commission, the Professional Standards Committee and the NSW Medical Tribunal — to take into account a doctor’s history of complaints when undertaking investigation, prosecution and making disciplinary decisions.
The Bill also provides for improvements to the emergency provisions in section 66 of the Act, which allows the NSW Medical Board to act urgently to suspend the registration of a medical practitioner in order to protect the life or physical or mental health of any person.
The shockwaves of the Reeves case have severely undermined public confidence in the state’s medical system, and that confidence will not be easily restored.
“There is no doubt that the case of Dr Reeves has challenged the public perception of the medical profession and that is why the Iemma Government is working to restore that trust,” the minister said.