Safeguarding confidentiality review
Learn more about the Ombudsman and Commissioner’s report and recommendations about the confidentiality of notifiers
The Ombudsman and Commissioner’s recommendations
Consideration of confidentiality safeguards for notifiers
The Ombudsman and Commissioner recommended that Ahpra introduces a new step in the notifications process to proactively consider safeguarding the confidentiality of the notifier. Ahpra could mitigate risks of harm to notifiers by assessing on a case-by-case basis how the notifier’s personal information will be used and whether it is necessary to disclose the notifier’s identity to the practitioner in the first instance.
Improvements to the administrative management of confidential and anonymous notifications
The Ombudsman and Commissioner recommended that identified gaps in Ahpra’s policies, processes and staff training in relation to confidential and anonymous notifications be addressed, including by:
- strengthening guidance for Ahpra staff regarding confidentiality safeguards for notifiers
- improving how confidential and anonymous notifications are recorded in Ahpra’s electronic case management system (Pivotal) and, where possible, automating processes for managing confidential and anonymous notifications.
Improvements to communication about privacy and confidentiality for notifiers
The Ombudsman and Commissioner recommended that Ahpra reviews all communications about notifications and makes necessary amendments to ensure consistency in messaging about a notifier’s privacy. It was also recommended that Ahpra requires staff to have a verbal discussion with notifiers about how their personal information will be used and disclosed during the notifications process.
Consequences for practitioners who harm, threaten, intiminate, harass or coerce notifiers
The Ombudsman and Commissioner recommended that Ahpra develop guidance for staff about how to deal with information that suggests a practitioner has sought to harm, threaten, intimidate, harass or coerce a notifier.
Further, the Ombudsman and Commissioner recommended that Ahpra seeks an amendment to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law to make it an offence for a registered health practitioner to harm, threaten, intimidate, harass or coerce a notifier.
Managing the risk of vexatious notifications
While the evidence suggests that vexatious notifications are rare, the Ombudsman and Commissioner recommended that Ahpra develops and publishes a framework for identifying and dealing with this type of notification.
Progress update: one year on
The Ombudsman and Commissioner has welcomed progress on the implementation of all recommendations from her review into safeguarding the confidentiality of people making notifications about registered health practitioners.
On 27 May 2021 the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and the National Health Practitioner Boards (the Boards) announced that all the Ombudsman’s recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented.
“I am pleased that Ahpra and the Boards have taken significant steps to strengthen and communicate the safeguards available to those who make a notification,” said Ombudsman and Commissioner Richelle McCausland.
“It’s essential that people feel safe to notify Ahpra and the Boards if they are concerned that a practitioner’s health, conduct or performance is putting the public at risk. Health practitioners also need to have confidence that they will be treated fairly if a notification is made about them.”
Several significant areas of progress include Ahpra and the Boards:
- updating relevant policies to reflect that possible confidentiality safeguards for the notifier will be considered when assessing each new notification
- providing new guidance to staff about how to safeguard confidentiality, including in relation to redacting a notifier’s information and sharing a notifier’s information with the relevant practitioner.
The Ombudsman and Commissioner said that the publication of a new framework for handling vexatious notifications is a significant step forward for the National Scheme.
“Our complaints data suggests that it is rare that a notification is truly vexatious, meaning it is groundless and made with the intent to cause distress. However, we know that responding to notifications can be very stressful for health practitioners and this framework clarifies how Ahpra and the Boards will identify and handle vexatious notifications if they do occur,” said Ms McCausland.
Ahpra is awaiting further advice from Health Ministers regarding the recommended amendment to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law to make it an offence for a registered health practitioner to harm, threaten, intimidate, harass, or coerce a notifier.
The Ombudsman and Commissioner said she is satisfied with Ahpra and the Boards’ progress and that her office has welcomed continued involvement and consultation following the review.
“I will continue to monitor issues related to confidentiality safeguards for notifiers. I encourage notifiers or practitioners to contact Ahpra to discuss any concerns and to reach out to my office about any unresolved issues,” said Ms McCausland.
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