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Health Bulletin 2 May 2019

The latest insights from our Health Law team.

In this edition:

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RACGP begins the final step toward profession-led Australian General Practice Training

In a media release on 8 April 2019, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) announced that the RACGP is signing an agreement with the federal government to select candidates for and oversee the delivery of the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) Program.

The Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that the RACGP would deliver the AGPT program at the RACGP’s annual conference – GP17 back in October 2017.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon stated that “accepting such a high level of responsibility of the AGPT Program was an historic moment for general practice and reflects the professionalism and expertise of the RACGP”.

Read more about the RACGP’s media release here.


Government to review private health insurance reforms of alternative therapy rebates

The federal government has announced a $2 million review of its decision to remove private health insurance rebates for a range of natural therapies.  Whilst the decision to exclude alternative therapies from 1 April 2019 was widely welcomed by the medical profession, it received fierce criticism from alternative practitioner organisations such as the National Institute of Complementary Medicine and the Australian Naturopathic Practitioners Association.

The review promises to assess available evidence for each therapy from natural therapy practitioners, consumer representatives, doctors, private health insurers and allied health professionals.  It will further invite public consultations with the view to providing advice to the government as to whether certain natural therapies should once more be made eligible.  The review is to commence by mid-2019 with the final report due to the government in 2020.

For more information click here.


General practitioner’s end of life prescribing found to be professional misconduct

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) recently prosecuted a complaint against Dr Judith Silberberg, a registered general practitioner. The complaint relates to Dr Silberberg’s “end of life” prescribing to 14 patients who were residents at an aged care facility in NSW between 2015 and 2016.

It was alleged that Dr Silberberg prescribed a combination of Schedule 8 and Schedule 4D medications using a syringe driver in large doses which were well outside therapeutic guidelines. Dr Silberberg admitted most of the allegations by the time the case was heard by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal).

The Tribunal commented that it was particularly concerned that Dr Silberberg, an experienced practitioner in providing palliative care, did not realise the dosages she was prescribed were far in excess of recognised standards. The Tribunal also found that in some instances, Dr Silberberg’s prescribing was influenced by her close relationship with the patients or their families.

The Tribunal found that Dr Silberberg’s conduct constituted both unprofessional conduct and professional misconduct. The Tribunal ordered that Dr Silberberg:

(a) be reprimanded;
(b) her registration be suspended for a period of 6 months; and
(c) following suspension, her registration be subject to a number of conditions, including supervision and audit requirements.

Read the full decision here and the HCCC’s media release here.


High Court has passed a decision on safe access zones for abortion clinics

The High Court has dismissed two appeals and upheld laws which promote the safety, dignity and privacy of women who are seeking reproductive health care. The matter was brought to the High Court by two anti-abortionists, who challenged the validity of Victoria and Tasmania’s safe access zone laws.

The Victorian legislation defines a safe access zone as “an area with a radius of 150 metres from premises which abortions are provided”. Within these zones, certain behaviours are prohibited, such as communicating with persons who are accessing the clinic in such a way that is reasonably likely to cause distress or anxiety. The Tasmanian legislation is similar, but provides different definitions of prohibited behaviour. This includes protesting and footpath interference.

In 2016, one of the appellants, Mrs Clubb, was seen by police, standing along the boundary of the Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic, handing out pamphlets and speaking to individuals entering the clinic. Mrs Clubb was subsequently charged for engaging in prohibited behaviour within a safe access zone. In 2015, the other appellant, Mr Preston, was similarly charged after being seen within a safe access zone of the Specialist Gynaecology Centre in Tasmania. Mr Preston was seen with placards, passing out leaflets, and a representation of a foetus at eight weeks.

The appellants each challenged their charges and argued that the safe access laws were invalid because “it impermissibly burdens the freedom of communication about matters of government and politics which is implied in the Constitution”. However, the High Court dismissed their appeals on the basis that Victorian and Tasmanian safe access laws do not abrogate the implied freedom of communication under the Constitution.

For more information, read the Human Rights Law Centre media release here. A copy of the High Court judgment can also be accessed here.

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