The federal government will make changes to the controversial mandatory reporting laws which have been blamed for being “detrimental and even dangerous to doctors’ health”.
Doctor suicides are on the radar after a spate of suicides nationally, including at least four junior doctors in NSW in recent months.
The 2013 Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students by beyondblue found that compared to the Australian population and other Australian professionals, doctors reported substantially higher rates of burnout, psychological distress and attempted suicide.
Mandatory reporting compels a medical practitioner to report doctors who may pose a public risk.
WA-style exemptions were strongly supported by the Australian Medical Association, mental health advocacy organisation beyondblue, families and international medical authorities who have long campaigned for greater understanding and less draconian red tape for doctors already at risk.
AMA president Michael Gannon said that changes to mandatory reporting are welcomed because of the symbolic importance of the federal government publicly confirming changes to the controversial mandatory reporting laws – an issue that has been much in the medical profession and government’s radar in recent times.
It is up to the states to make changes on the legislative front, but the federal government should be congratulated for setting the agenda nationally, Dr Gannon said.
He renewed calls for WA-style exemptions, and said he was optimistic that the states would be on board in terms of making legislative changes to reflect the needs of doctors seeking help for mental distress.
“I think the changes will happen in NSW and I’m very hopeful it will be in the other states. It’s not a difficult change [re making changes to mandatory reporting].
“My only fear is that the government will think that’s doctors’ health ticked. It’s far more complicated than this.”
The AMA NSW’s Brad Frankum and NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who have also campaigned strongly for change in the mandatory reporting laws, reaffirmed their support for changes in the law in the interest of doctors’ health in the state.
“Young doctors in the recent ministerial forum [in June, organised by NSW Health] say that they reported that they had various pressures on them … they also reported that they had a reluctance to seek out medical help themselves because they felt at risk of being reported,” Mr Hazzard said.
Mr Hazzard said there was confusion over the mandatory requirement laws, which served a useful purpose in some cases.
“But my view at the moment is more inclined for the need for it to be changed on the basis that if the perception has become a reality for those young doctors, that becomes their reality, and they’re not prepared to seek out help, then that is extremely damaging.”
Medico legal insurer Avant said it strongly supported the adoption of the WA-treating-practitioner exemption from mandatory reporting, saying there should be “no barriers to doctors seeking treatment”.
This piece by Sharon Verghis was first seen on the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ June 27 2017.