All registered health practitioners have a professional and ethical obligation to protect and promote public health and safe healthcare. Under the national law, health practitioners, employers and education providers also have some mandatory reporting responsibilities.
So what is mandatory reporting?
Mandatory reporting is a term used to describe the legislative requirement imposed on selected classes of people to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, elder abuse and ‘notifiable conduct’ by another practitioner to government authorities.
Parliaments in all Australian states and territories have enacted mandatory reporting laws of some description.
However, the laws are not the same across all jurisdictions.
The main differences concern who has to report, and what types of abuse and neglect have to be reported.
There are also other differences, such as the state of mind that activates the reporting duty (ie., having a concern, suspicion or belief on reasonable grounds) and the destination of the report.
The National Law requires practitioners to advise AHPRA or a National Board of ‘notifiable conduct’ by another practitioner or, in the case of a student who is undertaking clinical training, an impairment that may place the public at substantial risk of harm.
The threshold to require mandatory reporting is high.
Registered health practitioners and employers have a legal obligation to make a mandatory notification if they have formed a reasonable belief that a health practitioner has behaved in a way that constitutes notifiable conduct in relation to the practice of their profession.
‘Reasonable belief’ is a term commonly used in legislation, including in criminal, consumer and administrative law. While it is not defined in the National Law, in general, a reasonable belief is a belief based on reasonable grounds.
Notifiable conduct by registered health practitioners is defined as:
- practising while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs
- sexual misconduct in the practice of the profession
- placing the public at risk of substantial harm because of an impairment (health issue), or
- placing the public at risk because of a significant departure from accepted professional standards
The National Law provides for both voluntary notifications and mandatory notifications.
Voluntary notifications are for behaviour that presents a risk but does not meet the threshold for notifiable conduct.
Mandatory notifications came into effect for all registered health professionals on 1 July 2010 and is designed to improve patient and public safety by reducing public exposure to risk of harm related to a health practitioner’s conduct or impairment.
Details about the kinds of notifications that the National Boards receive, the number of notifications and their outcomes are published each year in the annual report of AHPRA and the National Boards.
Any actions taken by the National Board aim first to protect the public, not to punish practitioners. There is a nationally consistent process for managing notifications, but there is no uniform response as every notification is different.
There are differences in state and territory law in regards to who and what to report in relation to child abuse and neglect.
Sexual abuse, non-accidental physical injury, the risk of significant harm to a child, including psychological harm are all discussed in relation to the relevant jurisdiction.
There are no mandatory reporting laws for elder abuse anywhere in Australia. As from the 1 July 2007 Compulsory Reporting of certain assaults, inflicted on a recipient of residential care was imposed on providers of Australian government subsidised Aged Care homes.
The Aged Care Act 1997 (the Act) requires approved Aged Care providers to report unlawful sexual contact or unreasonable use of force on a resident of an Australian government subsidised Aged Care home.
The ANMF CPE website provides two tutorials on mandatory reporting; one specifically for nurses and another for midwives. Each tutorial offers 3 hours of CPD toward ongoing registration requirements. To access the tutorials go to the ANMF’s Continuing Professional Education (CPE) website or follow this link
The tutorials cover:
- mandatory reporting in relation to notifiable conduct of health practitioners and the stage of the notification process;
- mandatory reporting and legislative requirements for suspected cases of child abuse and neglect; what to report and how to report in your state or territory; and compulsory reporting requirements for approved aged care providers;
- what to report, how to report, and protection for reporters.