After months of escalating tensions between the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA) and the medical industry, a motion by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Victoria; approved by the AMA council; has requested a formal public inquiry into the regulator.

Calls for the inquiry are said to have stemmed from AHPRA’s lack of transparency, its treatment of practitioners in relation to freedom of speech, and its growing authority which was further extended this month by the Queensland Parliament who approved amendments to AHPRA law allowing practitioners under investigation to be publicly named before the completion of investigations.

AMA Victoria council member and Melbourne GP Dr Mukesh Haikerwal told the Medical Republic that ‘previous Senate-level inquiries into AHPRA had not gone far enough.’

“A Royal Commission goes beyond just the people in the senate, and it would be able to look at the documentation of cases that have been problematic,” Dr Haikerwal said.

The Melbourne GP said that the government has no understanding of the physical and mental outcomes on health practitioners who are ‘caught in the complaints process’ and that while the motion by the AMA was unrelated to specific cases, it had been coming for some time. Dr Haikerwal said,

“It’s not a fair process. People don’t trust it, and it’s leading to people leaving the profession and people leaving their lives.”

Last month AHPRA placed conditions on the registration of Western Australian GP Dr David Berger, issuing him a warning about criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic and subsequently ordering the doctor to undertake a class on social media use. The treatment of Dr Berger and the regulator’s overreach into free speech are among the reasons for the AMA seeking a Royal Commission.

Following Berger’s censure, in an open letter to federal, state and territory ministers, co-signing clinicians wrote:

“If the open discussion of public health settings by registered practitioners is stifled by authoritarian implementation of regulation, leaving the rest of the community to discuss these issues without alternative ideas from those who have the best understanding of the disease, that will not benefit anyone.”

“Australia must not be a country where reputable scientists and clinicians cannot speak for the public good because they fear reprisal from their government regulator.”

The progression of the motion put forward by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Victoria and supported by the AMA council is to be decided upon by members at a national conference in Sydney next week.

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