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AHPRA faces Senate inquiry

29th Mar 2011
Mark O'Brien   all articles by this author

A BUREAUCRATIC ­bungle has sparked a wide-ranging Senate inquiry into AHPRA.

A BUREAUCRATIC ­bungle resulting in the accidental deregistration of a NSW GP has sparked a wide-ranging Senate inquiry into the capacity and performance of the beleaguered Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Opposition health spokesperson Peter Dutton said the agency had placed a “huge burden” on Dubbo GP Dr Sandra Gaffney when it mistakenly allowed her registration to lapse earlier this month, and that the mistake was simply the latest in a series that should be investigated.

The agency error meant Dr Gaffney’s renewal application was not processed despite being lodged on time.

She was unregistered for three days, preventing her from providing care to a terminally ill patient and forcing her to cancel appointments and an emergency department shift.

Although AHPRA contacted Medicare to alert it of the lapse in Dr Gaffney’s registration, it failed  to notify Dr Gaffney herself.

Dr Gaffney told MO she had grown increasingly frustrated and had encountered repeated problems when trying to have her registration back-dated to cover the lapsed period.

“I found the whole [handling of my case] extremely incompetent and distressing – and it seemed to be an ongoing problem,” she said. “It was like there was no understanding of what medicine involves.”

The incident follows previous reports of processing delays and errors resulting in doctors mistakenly having conditions incorrectly removed and added to their registration, which in some cases left patients unable to claim rebates.

An AHPRA spokesperson said Dr Gaffney’s case was “unfortunate and isolated”.

“We have apologised directly to the doctor and taken steps to correct the issue internally,”
she said.

“In this case, human error meant standard operating procedures were not followed, and the consequence caused unacceptable distress to the doctor and her patients.”

A motion to refer the agency’s handling of the registration process to the Senate’s Finance and Public Administration References Committee was passed last week, with a report due by 13 May.

“The whole thing has been a debacle, with long-serving doctors, nurses and other health professionals being deregistered and forced to stop work through no fault of their own,” Mr Dutton said.

“Health Minister Nicola Roxon just shrugged her shoulders and said it wasn’t her problem. It was the height of incompetence.”

A spokesperson for Ms Roxon said the minister was concerned about “the reporting of a number of complaints against AHPRA” and was providing additional support and expertise to address ongoing operational concerns.

“The [Health Department] is also working with Medicare and AHPRA to assist in implementing immediate remedies so patients are not disadvantaged by lapsed registration of their healthcare practitioner who is still practising,” he said.     


AHPRA timeline

Mar 2008 – COAG agrees on a national health registration and accreditation scheme.

Dec 2009 – AHPRA hires CEO Martin Fletcher.

Jul 2010 – AHPRA starts its national registration scheme via 1300 hotline; call centre overwhelmed with 3000 calls a day.

Aug 2010 – Reports surface that conditions have been wrongly added to or removed from health professionals’ registration status.

Feb 2011 – Official figures show around 10,000 health professionals  due to renew their registration failed to do so on time. Government promises greater scrutiny of AHPRA and offers “act of grace” payments for health professionals mistakenly left unregistered and unable to access Medicare rebates.

Mar 2011 – AHPRA bungle leaves Dr Sandra Gaffney unable to treat a terminally ill patient, triggering a Senate inquiry.

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