Disciplinary hearings - overview

Once a complaint has been investigated by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), the Council and the Commission consult on what action to take. The Council and the HCCC may decide:
  • to terminate an investigation and take no further action against the practitioner; or
  • that the HCCC make comments in a letter to the practitioner; or
  • that the practitioner be counselled by the Medical Council; or
  • that a complaint be referred to the Director of Proceedings with a view to referring the matter to a disciplinary hearing before a Professional Standards Committee or the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

After a complaint has been referred by the Director of Proceedings to a disciplinary hearing, the Council makes the administrative arrangements necessary to organise the hearing. The Professional Conduct Section will then implement the decisions of the disciplinary hearing and ensure that the practitioner complies with the orders of the Committee or Tribunal. Disciplinary hearings do not have the power to award financial compensation to the complainant.

Professional Standards Committees

Complaints which may lead to a finding of unsatisfactory professional conduct are normally referred to a Professional Standards Committee (PSC). A PSC takes an investigative approach rather than a strict adversarial format. Unlike Courts, a PSC is not bound to observe the strict rules governing the admissibility of evidence and can inform itself of any matter in such manner as it deems appropriate. However, a PSC must be conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice. The HCCC prosecutes the complaint before a PSC and the parties are entitled to be accompanied by an Australian Legal Practitioner or other adviser and should feel free to seek the assistance of their adviser at any time. Another adviser may represent the practitioner.

A PSC is legally separate from and independent to the Medical Council. A PSC comprises a legal practitioner, two medical practitioners and one lay, or non-medical, member. PSCs constituted from 1 October 2008 are conducted in public unless the Committee determines otherwise. PSCs constituted before this date were required to conduct hearings in private.

A PSC does not have the power to suspend a practitioner or remove a practitioner's name from the Register. Should a PSC reach the opinion that the matter is one which could warrant suspension or deregistration, it must terminate the hearing forthwith and refer the matter to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a complete re-hearing.

When a PSC has made a finding that the complaint has been substantiated, the members must then decide what orders/sanctions, if any, are to be made to protect the public. A PSC is empowered to exercise the following powers pursuant to section 146A of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (NSW) and a PSC may use one or a combination of these powers:

  • caution or reprimand
  • order that the person seek and undergo medical or psychiatric treatment or counselling
  • direct that conditions be imposed relating to the person's practice of medicine
  • order that a person complete educational courses
  • order that the person report on his or her medical practice
  • order that the person seek and take advice in relation to the management of his or her practice
  • issue a fine
  • direct that certain orders or conditions are critical compliance conditions.

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) commenced operation on 1 January 2014. It handles matters previously dealt with by the Medical Tribunal. The primary role of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal is to adjudicate on allegations of professional misconduct which, if proven, could warrant suspension or de-registration, and as an appeal body on decisions made by the Medical Council. The Tribunal is legally separate from and independent of the Council.

The Tribunal may dismiss a complaint, application or appeal or make any finding or exercise any power or combination of powers available to the Tribunal. When the Tribunal makes a finding that a doctor is guilty of professional misconduct and/or unsatisfactory professional conduct, it may exercise any of the powers available to a PSC or it may suspend or de-register a practitioner.

Only the Tribunal has the power to suspend or de-register a medical practitioner if it is satisfied: the medical practitioner is not competent to practise medicine; is guilty of professional misconduct; has been convicted of an offence (either in or outside New South Wales) and the circumstances of the offence render the person unfit in the public interest to practise medicine; or is not of good character.

Displinary Hearing Resources

Notice to Produce documents in a PSC