Ahpra notification – what next?

Getting a notification from Ahpra can be one of the most distressing things in a doctors’ career. The process after this can be drawn out and agonisingly long.

However, there are sources of help and support available now.

Also it’s important noting that only 0.4% of all notifications lead to cancellation/suspension of registration. The majority (75%) result in no further action or a caution.

Why does reporting happen?

Reporting and regulation exists to keep the public safe. Sometimes there is misunderstanding of what are the requirements for reporting.

What is a mandatory report (as per Ahpra)?

  • practising while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.
  • sexual misconduct in the practice of the profession.
  • placing the public at risk of substantial harm because of an impairment (health issue), or.
  • placing the public at risk because of a significant departure from accepted professional standards.

The impact of the notification

Research (1) shows the most stressful aspects of the process include:

  • Delays
  • Lack of empathy
  • Errors
  • Judgmental treatment

(1) Dr Owen Bradfield University Melbourne and chief medical officer of MIPS, FRACGP – Regulation in need of therapy: qualitative analysis of the experiences of unwell doctors subject to medical board sanctions at the Australasian Doctors’ Health Conference 2022 .

Psychological impact

  • Illness relapse – one doctor reported their health condition became public knowledge and led to a relapse
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Mood disorder
  • Acceptance – for some the notification helped them to accept that they did need help with their substance use

Non-psychological impact

  • Financial
  • Vocational – unsure other job options
  • Clinical – wanting to leave clinical medicine
  • Privacy

Sources of help and support

For a list of resources click here.

What happens next?

Beyond the psychological and non-psychological impacts, what next? Fear of losing registration is often one of the biggest worries for doctors in a regulatory process.

Cheryl McDonald, the National & Legal Services Manager at MIGA, presented the Medical Board Annual Report 2021-2022, that reveals:

  • 129,000 registered doctors in Australia
  • 5,500 notifications
    • 71% no further action
    • 6% conditions/undertakings
    • 4% caution
    • 0.4% cancellation/suspension

Though getting a notification is distressing and the process is long, the majority of cases do not end in suspension or cancellation of your medical license.

Barriers to seeking help

  • Fear of reporting
  • Denial
  • Stigma
  • Financial concerns
  • Lack of access
  • Workplace culture

Often, doctors can put off getting help for illnesses or addiction in fear of being reported to Ahpra. Research shows that not seeking help sooner is actually what mosts puts doctors at risk, as well as patients.

Remember, the reporting requirement is only if patients are at direct risk. For example, a doctor with alcoholism would not need to be reported unless they are drinking/under the influence at work.

Suggestions for improvement by Dr Owen Bradfield

  • Reduce delays
  • Improve communication channels
  • Staff trained in mental health and substance use disorders
  • Better fund and integrate doctors’ health services in regulatory pathways

If you’re going through the regulatory process, know that there are resources available to you now. You don’t need to go through it alone.

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