Submission on the Health Professions Amendment Bill [B 10 – 2006]
The AIDS Law Project (ALP) welcomes this opportunity to make written submissionson the Health Professions Amendment Bill [B 10 – 2006] (“the Bill”). As an organisation that has consistently sought to ensure that the Health Professions Council (“the Council”) holds health professionals to account, we welcome the Bill and the many positive contributions we believe it will make in advancing and safeguarding the public interest. We do, however, have some concerns about the Bill. As is evident from the recommendations we make below, we submit that numerous provisions do not support the Bill’s stated objective – that being progressive transformation of the Council. Instead, they appear to weaken the Council and its independence, to the potential detriment of health care users.
This submission is made against the backdrop of a report issued by the Office of the Public Protector on 19 July 2001 in response to a complaint lodged by the ALPregarding problems many of our clients had experienced with the Council. After investigating the ALP’s complaint and meeting with both the ALP and the Council, the Public Protector made various recommendations. Although the specific cases which formed the basis of the complaint have subsequently been resolved, the Public Protector’s recommendations – if implemented generally – would still go some way towards ensuring better protection for patients’ rights in the future.
The Public Protector’s recommendations include the following:
- The Council should be required to educate health professionals regarding the ethical guidelines, and these guidelines should be used as the measure of a health professional’s conduct during preliminary inquiries.
- The Council should regulate the time limit given to medical professionals to respond to complaints, particularly where the lifespan of the patient is shortened. If there is no response from a medical professional within the prescribed period, the matter should be referred for a hearing.
- Records should be kept of the preliminary committee proceedings, which can be made available to the complainant if necessary. Detailed reasons for preliminary inquiry decisions should be given.
- The Council should include the involvement of a person who will champion the rights of the patient in the preliminary inquiry stage.
We submit, however, that the Bill fails to deal adequately with many of the Public Protector’s recommendations. In our view, this needn’t be the case. The Bill provides the ideal opportunity for these recommendations to be codified in an amended Health Professions Act (“the Act”) and thereby given the force of law.
This submission focuses primarily on three areas: the composition and powers of – and the appropriate roles to be played by – the Council and professional boards; the conduct of unregistered professionals and inquiries into misconduct (unprofessional conduct); and human resources for health. It first sets out a summary of the key recommendations made in respect of each of the three focus areas. This is then following by detailed submissions in respect of particular sections of the Bill. In conclusion, the submission considers the cumulative effect of many of the provisions that we consider problematic.