Sunday, December 14, 2008


Red News Readers,

About time. Just about every doctor and nurse in NSW would know someone who needs to be more reflective about their practice but refuses to hear or see any feedback from their colleagues. But it is all about patient safety and standards of care, not doctors egos. However, this process of mandatory reporting will only succeed if it is not abused or misused.

Jenny Haines

Doctors dob in colleagues

By Clair Weaver, smh

December 14, 2008 12:00am

A RECORD number of NSW doctors are dobbing in dodgy colleagues in the wake of allegations concerning Bega doctor Graeme Reeves.

For the first time, fellow medics and employers are the biggest source of tip-offs to the NSW Medical Board about doctors who are unfit to practice.

The revelation comes six months after landmark legislation was introduced, legally forcing doctors to report colleagues suspected of serious misconduct. This includes sexual abuse, drug or alcohol intoxication and other potentially harmful behaviour.

Data in the NSW Medical Board's annual report reveals a 59 per cent rise in colleague notifications in 2007/08 compared with the previous year.

That means a doctor is now dobbing in a colleague every two weeks in NSW, compared with only every three weeks in 2006/07. The report states: ``It is pleasing to note that more notifications have been received from colleagues and treating practitioners, perhaps reflecting increasing familiarity and understanding of the board's processes.''

It comes as the Health Care Complaints Commission's (HCCC) annual report shows increases in inquiries and complaints made by members of the public last year.

The 8831 inquiries andthe 3128 complaints were mostly about treatment, communication, professional conduct and access.

``A significant part of this increase can be directly attributed to allegations about the deregistered doctor Graeme Reeves and complaints referred by the special inquiry into acute care in public hospitals in NSW,'' the HCCC report acknowledges.

Reeves faces a number of criminal charges including indecent assault and genital mutilation, allegedly committed against former patients.

There were also 92 notifications to the Board relating to unfit doctors over the past year, of which 27 were made by colleagues. Of the 71 impaired registrant panels convened in response to the reports, more than half related to doctors with psychiatric issues.

Another 30 per cent were medics addicted to drugs, 10 per cent related to alcoholism and seven per cent were about physical handicaps.

The board allows most impaired doctors to keep treating patients while participating in its health program, although 71.5 per cent agreed to have conditions imposed on their practice last year.

Drug-addicted and alcoholic doctors must receive treatment, take regular urine or blood tests and surrender powers to prescribe addic-tive drugs. Those doctorswho are mentally ill haveto see a psychiatrist and comply with treatment. The Board claims to get an extra 8000 working years from NSW doctors by keeping 90 per cent of health program participants in the community practising medicine.

Of 24 cases referred to the Medical Tribunal last year, seven related to inappropriate prescribing and four were about sexual misconduct.

Most complaints to the HCCC were about doctors and public hospitals, with treatment issues most common in gynaecology and emergency medicine.

The Medical Practice Act 2008 introduced a raft of changes to NSW's medical regulation system designed to boost scrutiny of dodgy doctors, improve transparency and give the boardextra powers. It was prompted by the case against Reeves, a former obstetrician and gynaecologist.