There have been many who have suffered mental illnesses after appearing before medical disciplinary bodies.
Many have suffered lifelong depression requiring long-term counselling. Indeed, many medical defence organisations have dedicated services just for this kind of eventuality.
This is the power of medical boards. They can investigate, summon and question at length. They can actually deregister you, which can sometimes mean destruction of livelihoods that can lead to destruction of entire families. In short, they can change a professional’s life 180 degrees.
The only thing they cannot do — compared to courts — is jail you, although they can drive you to suicide.
Their powers of coercion have presumably been accepted by the medical profession in exchange for ‘self-regulation’ and the hope of eliminating the need to involve courts in every incidence of medical mishap.
And for this reason every medical practitioner actually contributes to their existence through hefty registration fees.
For centuries, medical boards consisted solely of medical professionals. This was fair enough, because it was supposed to be a professional self-regulatory body. More recently, without any reaction from the profession, it was deemed to be necessary to involve ‘lay persons’ in the composition of medical boards.
As if this was still not enough, even more recently, the composition of the boards began to include ‘a legally trained person’ — all in the name of ‘protecting the public’ and apparently modernising the entity.
The argument here is not why this has been accepted by the profession — to reduce if not prevent involvement of the courts, or politicians from involvement in medical professional matters.
The issue is that now the goal posts have shifted so far, the argument for their power is hard to sustain.
It seems the end of a disciplinary inquiry may not be the end. Indeed the end of a disciplinary inquiry may be the precursor for the start of a legal one. The story of our infamous, perhaps merely incompetent but dishonest colleague, Dr Jayant Patel, is but one example.
It seems the concept of double jeopardy — trying someone twice for the same offence — is alive in some circumstances which would be considered unfair in any fair legal system. The unfortunate issue is that while the medical boards have many of the powers of courts, when it comes to defence from a potential double jeopardy
situation, there is little protection for those already questioned at length.
Maybe it is time for a common sense approach to this anomalous situation. If someone has paid for their wrong via a court decision, that should be the end of the matter. The sad fact is in our professional representatives not coming up with any stance in these scenarios, not even suggesting some modernising of AHPRA itself.
Unfortunately the largest of these representative groups — the AMA — seems to be busy making statements on issues such as heatwaves putting health at risk.1 This is a complete fiasco indeed.