13 July 2023

Sexual misconduct alerts to AHPRA triple in 3 years

AHPRA Political

Though doctors make up just 12% of the health professionals regulated by AHPRA, they accounted for more than 40% of complaints about sexual misconduct made to the regulator last year.

Complaints about what AHPRA calls “boundary violations” have been on the rise across the board over the last three years, jumping from 260 in 2019 to 568, 925 and 841 in the years following.

Of the 841 complaints last year, 359 were about a doctor.

The surge in complaints has prompted the regulator to add 10 new investigators to its existing team of around 75, but it also argues that the statistics aren’t as bad as they may seem on the surface.

Two years ago, right around the time that the complaint numbers spike, AHPRA expanded the types of concerns that people could report as part of a wider move to stamp out sexism, sexual harassment and gendered violence.

“The types of complaints range from inappropriate or sexualised remarks, intimate touching of a patient without consent, personal relationships where there is an imbalance of power, to aggressive sexual, criminal offending,” the regulator said.

It also reiterated that patients were coming forward with complaints about incidents that may have occurred years or even decades ago – one spokesman referenced a recent case where a person had lodged a complaint about an incident that occurred in the 1980s.

“For them, it was an opportunity to have their story heard, and to be assured that the practitioner is no longer practising,” the anonymous investigator said.

“That is powerful. We strongly encourage reporting of any incidents whenever they happened.”

This is not the first time this year that AHPRA has faced scrutiny over this very issue.

At the beginning of February, Health Minister Mark Butler ordered a rapid review of the way AHPRA is handling cases relating to sexual harassment and misconduct.

The review was ordered following an ABC Four Corners report on the 160 doctors since 2010 who have been sanctioned by tribunals for sexual misconduct but subsequently returned to work.

By the end of the month, the regulator had produced a “blueprint for reform”; hiring the 10 new investigators was part of this.

“Early work has focused on exploring what additional commitments AHPRA can make to those impacted by sexual misconduct, scoping research about sexual misconduct matters to inform strengthening of our approach, and preparing for a targeted public consultation about the Criminal History registration standard,” it said.

The rapid review has not been mentioned by either AHPRA or the government since being announced.

Rheumatology Republic understands that it is still under way.