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COAG move on mandatory reporting welcomed

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The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council has resolved to develop a nationally consistent approach to mandatory reporting provisions for health practitioners.

The move has been warmly welcomed by the AMA.

Federal and State and Territory Health Ministers have agreed to consult with practitioner and consumer groups, and develop a nationally consistent proposal for consideration at the next COAG Health Council meeting in November 2017.

The agreement follows months of lobbying and advocacy from the Federal and State AMAs, highlighted by discussions in face-to-face meetings between Health Minister Greg Hunt and AMA President Dr Michael Gannon in recent weeks.

Dr Gannon said that the AMA had always advocated for treating practitioners to be exempted from mandatory reporting requirements.

“Mandatory reporting laws deter health practitioners from seeking early treatment for health conditions that could impair their performance,” Dr Gannon said. 

“We have advocated long and hard at both the federal and State level for changes the mandatory reporting provisions.

“It is an issue that the AMA and the whole medical profession feel passionately about. It affects every doctor, their families, their loved ones, and their colleagues.”

Delegates to the AMA National Conference in May were unanimous in seeking amendments to the mandatory reporting requirements under the National Law, so as to not dissuade medical practitioners from seeking necessary medical treatment or assistance. 

The intention of the legislation was to ensure the protection of the public by requiring doctors and other health practitioners to report colleagues whose health was impaired.

But this created a barrier for health professionals to access health care, particularly in relation to mental illness. The lived experience of doctors’ health advisory services across the country confirms these fears.

“Mandatory reporting undermines the health and wellbeing of doctors,” Dr Gannon said.

“It is a tragic reality that doctors are at greater risk of suicidal ideation and death by suicide. This year we have lost several colleagues to suicide.

“While there are many factors involved in suicide, we know that early intervention is critical to avoiding these tragic losses. 

“The AMA has identified that mandatory reporting is a major barrier to doctors accessing the care they need.

“The real work begins now. We need action from all our governments.

“The medical profession and the public need a sensible system that supports health practitioners who seek treatment for health conditions, while at the same time protecting patients. 

“We urge all Health Ministers to work cooperatively to come up with an achievable agreed proposal at their next meeting.”