Currently, 47 doctors Australia-wide are under conditions requiring a chaperone as a temporary protective measure, allowing them to continue to practise whilst misconduct allegations are investigated by AHPRA. The Chaperone system requires strict monitoring and compliance, as set out in AHPRA’s Chaperone Protocol.
Last month, AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia announced a review of the use of chaperones. The independent review, headed by Professor Ron Paterson, will assess the system’s effectiveness in protecting the safety of patients.
The review is a response to public concern following media reports that a neurologist allegedly molested three patients while he was meant to be working with a chaperone, including a patient behind a curtain while the chaperone was in the room. A strong advocate for reform, former Victorian Health Services Commissioner Dr Beth Wilson, argues that public protection is paramount and that “if a doctor can’t be trusted to see a patient without a chaperone then the doctor shouldn’t be seeing patients” (i.e. the doctor’s registration should be suspended).
Whilst public safety is important, in most cases the doctor under chaperone conditions has not had any allegations against him tested and proved. The doctor is entitled to the presumption of innocence pending the conclusion of the investigation and any disciplinary proceeding. Also, having regard to the often protracted length of time taken by AHPRA to investigate a notification and for the Board to decide whether or not to take disciplinary action, suspension of the doctor’s registration would be unduly restrictive. An effective chaperone system should be sufficient to protect against any risk to public safety, and at the same time, allows the doctor to continue practicing and earn a living while the regulatory process runs its course.
If you would like to have your say, Professor Paterson is seeking submissions from a range of individuals and groups. Submissions on the review must be received before close of business Monday, 3 October 2016, via email or post. More details can be found here.