Laws aimed at addressing a spike in health professional suicides are causing fear and confusion and could actually be having the opposite effect, Queensland medical experts are warning.
Under nationally adopted laws introduced in 2010, health practitioners are required to report on each other if they believe a clinician has an impairment that could place the public at risk of substantial harm.
The laws were introduced after a spate of doctors and other health professionals took their own lives.
But the laws themselves have since been linked to a number of high profile suicides, because health professionals do not feel they can seek help without being subject to a black mark against their name.
Amendments are due to pass this year aimed at addressing the issue, but there is concern the changes do not go far enough.
Mandatory reporting laws apply whenever a medical professional consults another clinician for confidential help with a mental health, drug or alcohol issue.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Queensland chair, Dr Bruce Willett, said for anyone with pre-existing issues that were under control, the mandatory reporting regime only made things worse.
“Since mandatory reporting came in, what’s happened is the psychiatrists and GPs have felt pressure to report those people.
“The problem is that the authorities then feel pressure to do something about it, so people who are currently treated and are working safely in their environment are getting suspended and deregistered.
“That destroys their career, but is also destroys their wellbeing, it causes them to relapse and get worse.”
According to the Medical Journal of Australia, 369 health workers took their own lives between 2001 and 2012.
GP and physician health expert Dr Margaret Kay said the existing laws served as a significant barrier for health professionals seeking care.
She said a recent survey with junior doctors showed they were unsure of whether they were free to seek help.
“I was absolutely stunned that one of the interns asked, ‘now that I’m a doctor, can I go to a doctor?’,” Dr Kay said.
“We see people who do not access care because they are frightened and I think that’s really sad.”
The national legislation brought in the mandatory reporting scheme almost a decade ago.
Following its introduction, a 2013 Beyond Blue study of more than 12,000 doctors and medical students found more than one in three were concerned that seeking treatment for depression or anxiety could impact their registration and right to practice.
Dr Kay said she had no doubt those figures would hold true today, given a similar outcome from a recent study in Brisbane.
Source: ABC News