Thursday, February 03, 2011

Caring about professional conduct

The topic of this post is one that is unlikely to attract acolades for the writer. It's one of those aspects of professional practice that implies a risk to the recipients of care, and that sometimes difficult judgments need to be made in order to maintain a professional standard.

There are people in every walk of life who develop conditions that may impair their judgment or conduct, people whose thoughts and actions are adversely influenced by alcohol or other substances, and people who fail to meet the community's standard in terms of professional misconduct and abuse of their position of trust. There are also people whose actions as professionals are significantly different from accepted professional standards. While tolerance and acceptance of difference are values many of us hold dear, we must all take seriously our duty of care, and act to protect others at times when we observe conduct that is of concern.

Life doesn't usually unfold in black and white, simple choices. There are often levels of concern, grey areas. And even when a notification is made, the process is not always optimal.

All Australian health professionals who are registered under the national Health Practitioner Law Act 2009 are now obliged to make a notification to the relevant statutory body if they develop a 'reasonable belief', in the course of their practice, that another registered professional is conducting their practice in a way that presents a serious risk to members of the public. Members of the public are also able to make notifications. For more information go to the AHPRA website.

A shocking article has appeared in the Medscape Medical News, an email digest:
'Official Neglect' Allowed Abortion Doctor to 'Butcher', by Robert Lowes.
January 28, 2011 — A "complete regulatory collapse" allowed Philadelphia physician Kermit Gosnell, MD, to illegally abort third-trimester fetuses, sever the spinal cords of babies aborted alive with scissors, and leave a trail of injured and dead female patients in his wake over several decades, according to a grand jury report on a case that has shocked the nation.

The Pennsylvania grand jury, which released its findings last week, said it was shocked not only by the medical "mayhem" of Dr. Gosnell but also by a pattern of "official neglect" that extended from the state medical board to physicians at Philadelphia hospitals who treated his patients for perforated bowels and uteruses. Plenty of agencies and individuals saw numerous signs of something gone terribly wrong but failed to intervene.

"Had state and local officials performed their duties properly, Dr. Gosnell's clinic would have been shut down decades ago," the report stated.

... [complete article], which concludes,
The grand jury offered one reason for why Dr. Gosnell was able to operate his "baby charnel house" for so long that is less amenable to the corrective power of new laws, policies, and procedures: "Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political subject of abortion."

The ANF Victorian Branch has published a useful guide on Mandatory Reporting.
Source: ANF Victorian Branch

Post script: "A notification not made in good faith under National Law is therefore not protected from civil, criminal and administrative liability, including defamation." (ANF Vic guide)
In other words, a notification is a very serious matter, that should not be made lightly.

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