Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Bill

Posted on 12. Nov, 2009 in Speeches

I rise to speak in support of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Bill 2009. This bill implements the 2008 Council of Australian Governments agreement to bring the registration of health practitioners into a national scheme by 1 July 2010.

The registration of health professionals is one of the most important forms of consumer protection, and that is why it is done by legislation.
Registration of health practitioners assures the public — that is, the consumers — that professionals such as doctors and nurses are safe, skilled and competent practitioners. The implications of having registered but unsafe practitioners can be tragic. Therefore the registration of health practitioners is one of the most critical legislative and regulatory responsibilities undertaken by the state.

Registration is much more than just admitting health professionals into practice. Registration needs to ensure that professionals have undertaken the prescribed education and training to achieve registration, but it also needs to ensure they have attained and continue to hold required levels of competencies. Some cases require continuing education, and this should increasingly be the norm. Registration of some practitioners, such as nurses, provides that those who have undertaken specialist education and training will be identified through specialist registration or endorsement.

Registration must require health professionals to act ethically, professionally and competently and ensure there are processes for reviewing this, including complaints initiated by the aggrieved consumer, and that sanctions are available, including the loss of the right to practise.

Most groups of health professionals also seek and support a strong system of registration. This indicates to the public that they are a body of professionals with standards of education, competency and ethics. Most health professionals I know are supportive of a strong disciplinary process, as they appreciate that protection of consumers also promotes public confidence in their profession.

The registration of health practitioners has been the subject of several important pieces of legislation in this Parliament under the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments. The Health Professions Registration Act 2005 brought 12 health professions under uniform legislation. Amending bills in 2007 and 2008 took into account the Council of Australian Governments’ discussions on a national scheme and, pending this legislation, ensured that Victoria had modern and up-to-date legislation, including strong and effective disciplinary provisions. However, ultimately it makes sense to have national standards and registration for health practitioners rather than having a separate system in each state and territory and the barriers that that puts in place for health professionals.

I will now outline the main provisions of the bill, the first one being to give effect to the intergovernmental agreement for a national registration and accreditation scheme for the health professions, which underpins the national scheme that was signed by the Council of Australian Governments on 26 March 2008. The Health Professions Registration Act applies to the 12 health professions regulated in Victoria; 10 are entering the national scheme on 1 July 2010, and Chinese medicine and medical radiation practitioners will remain under the Health Professions Registration Act until they join the scheme from 1 July 2012. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and occupational therapists will also enter the national scheme from 1 July 2012.

Each national board will need to determine where state or territory boards will be appointed and what their functions will be. The role of these boards will be to oversee registration and complaints processes.

The Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council will initially assign accreditation functions to independent accreditation entities. After this initial assignment, accreditation functions will be a matter for national boards. Mandatory criminal history and identity checks will apply to all health professionals registering for the first time. All other registrants will make an annual declaration on criminal history matters.

Victoria has led the country in regard to traditional Chinese medicine and is the only state where Chinese medicine practitioners are regulated. Earlier Council of Australian Governments discussions did not include Chinese medicine practitioners in the national registration scheme, and I am pleased that they will be included from 2012. Chinese medicine has much to offer Western medicine. While acupuncture is now accepted in the West, it is still used more innovatively and intensely in China.

Acupuncture is now being successfully integrated into Western medicine hospitals in China — for example, within hours of admission to hospital stroke patients commence intensive acupuncture. Early indications are that the results are promising. I commend the bill to the house.

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