Doctor’s health program must remain independent of government

ADF – 3 April 2012

“An AHPRA funded Doctor’s Health Program will jeopardize the likelihood of impaired doctors seeking help,” spokesman for the Australian Doctors’ Fund and past President of the RANZCP, Dr Richard Prytula said in Melbourne today.

In most Australian states and territories there are existing health advisory programs for medical practitioners which are run independently of the regulator and provide confidential advice and support to medical practitioners who seek help voluntarily.

The Medical Board of Australia which is administered by AHPRA, is now asking if it should fund doctor’s health programs through a levy on registration fees.

Dr Prytula said, “There is a long history of experience now with doctor’s health programs. Data from studies in the USA presented to International Doctors Health organisational conferences shows that the more arm’s length the treatment program is from the disciplinary body, whether medical board or state based judicial process, the more effective it is in achieving its goal of assisting doctors who need treatment or rehabilitation for health related issues.”

Doctor’s health groups are lining up for funding from AHPRA which would be paid for by the increase in medical registration fees. This effectively will mean that AHPRA has financial control over the Doctor’s Health Service and there is every prospect that this may compromise the value of the service by deterring voluntary referral.

The more at arm’s length the medical service is, the more that it is likely that doctors will voluntarily approach the Health Program for assistance before there has been any compulsory or judicial action needed and, often, obviating the need for official intervention.

Doctors may come to the Health program on a voluntary basis or as part of a recommendation by a statutory process where the doctor’s health problem has led to official intervention by a Medical Board or other licensing body. What is important is the reputation of the health service as an independent approachable body.

A simple funding model where the impaired doctor obtains fee-for-service care is all that is required as per any other medical service. There is no need to tax the rest of the profession for this service and to do so simply adds to escalating registration costs which will eventually be passed on to patients in the form of higher fees and charges.

“Whilst taking AHPRA money may seem attractive to start with, it is more likely to lead to a situation where less doctors seek help because they believe they are effectively reporting their problems to the very regulator who disciplines them. To be effective, all treatment should be at arm’s length from the regulator and reporting roles in compulsory treatment orders must be carefully defined to ensure continued confidence in the service,” Dr Prytula said.

Contact details:
Dr Richard Prytula (03) 9853 8520
Mr Stephen Milgate (02) 9567 1064  –  0425 283 411

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