As part of our health program, we manage concerns about registered health practitioners and students whose health is impaired so they may not be able to provide safe care to their patients. The health program is constructive and non-disciplinary. It is designed to protect the public while keeping practitioners whose health is impaired in safe practice, when this is possible. The health program also aims to keep students with impaired health in training, when this is safe.
Registered health practitioners are referred to the health program after a health complaint has been made about them. Commonly, practitioners on the health program are suffering from mental illness, problems with the abuse of alcohol or the self-administration of addictive drugs, and occasionally, physical illness.
Impairment has a specific definition in the law that links a practitioner’s health with their ability to provide safe care. A health practitioner is considered to have an impairment if they have a physical or mental impairment, disability, condition or disorder (including substance abuse or dependence) that does, or may, compromise their capacity to practise safely. Students are considered to have an impairment if an illness limits their capacity to undertake clinical training.
Not all practitioners who are ill or unwell have an impairment. If an unwell practitioner has:
- insight about their health
- actively manages their condition and
- practises safely
they may not be considered impaired because there is no risk to patients that requires our action.
What happens when we receive a health complaint
After assessing the complaint and other written information, we may direct a practitioner to attend an independent assessment with a Council-appointed practitioner. This will help us to determine:
- a practitioner's current health status
- if a practitioner has an impairment under the National Law (NSW)
- any further action we need to take to ensure public safety.
If the assessment finds that the practitioner may be impaired, we may then refer the practitioner to meet with an Impaired Registrants Panel to agree on the action needed to protect the public. Most commonly, the panel and the practitioner may recommend to us that the practitioner’s practice is limited in some way through conditions on their registration. Sometimes, we will suspend the practitioner for a fixed period, while they return to health and until they are able to practise safely.
We monitor these conditions, which are tailored to the health issue being managed. Common conditions include ensuring the impaired practitioner receives treatment, random urine drug testing, and regular reviews and assessments. We expect practitioners in the health program to comply with all the conditions on their registration to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public. As the practitioner with an impairment returns to good health through rehabilitation and recovery, the conditions on their registration are gradually eased.
While the health program aims to return practitioners with impairment to unrestricted practice, this is not always possible. Some practitioners, for example those with recurring psychiatric illness, may remain on the program indefinitely, potentially with low level, occasional review by us.
If you are a practitioner who is involved in our health program, we will give you the necessary information directly about what to expect at different stages in our process.