Who's who in medical regulation?

It’s not top of mind but understanding how the regulatory puzzle fits together can be useful. Most practitioners don’t think about medical regulation, hoping they will never need to know.  

But every doctor has a reasonable chance of being the subject of a complaint at some stage in their professional lifetime. Most complaints do not meet the risk threshold to warrant action. However the Council is increasingly concerned about the markers of risk in practitioners, such as an extensive complaint history. Knowing about the key regulators can be helpful.

Here is our short guide:

National bodies

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Agency (AHPRA)

AHPRA works with the national boards of 15 health professions, including medical practitioners, within the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme. It manages the registration of all Australian health professionals, including medical practitioners. It also receives complaints and mandatory notifications. Where a complaint is about a NSW medical practitioner, responsibility is then transferred by AHPRA to the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) and the Medical Council of NSW.

Medical Board of Australia (MBA)

The MBA works in partnership with AHPRA. The Board:

  • sets the registration and professional standards that registered medical practitioners in Australia must meet, and
  • makes decisions about registering individual doctors and holds them to account against national standards.

In most states, apart from NSW, the Medical Board also manages complaints about registered medical practitioners and students with the support of AHPRA.

NSW bodies

Regulation of NSW doctors and students in NSW and occurs largely in response to complaints. It is the job of both the HCCC and the Medical Council via a formal consultation process designed to determine which agency is better placed to deal with a particular complaint or practitioner.

NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC)

The HCCC is an independent health complaints body.  In general the HCCC investigates and prosecutes the most serious complaints about the conduct of medical and other health professionals and unregistered health practitioners. The HCCC can also investigate health service providers including hospitals.

Medical Council of NSW

The Medical Council works in collaboration with the HCCC to receive and manage complaints about registered doctors and registered medical students in NSW. The Council’s paramount legal obligation is to protect the public. It deals with doctors whose conduct, performance or health may represent a risk to the public.

It manages risk by requiring practitioners to practice in accordance with appropriate professional standards. Actions by the Council can include placing conditions on a doctor’s registration, such as a requirement to attend specific training, participate in practice audits or supervision meetings with an approved peer.  Read some of our case studies here.

The Council consists of 19 people, including nominees of specialist medical colleges and community and legal members appointed by the Minister. The Council delegates day to day decision-making to its Committees and hearing members who include registered medical practitioners and community members.

In a very small number of cases, the Council uses its urgent action powers to suspend a doctor’s registration while proceedings by the HCCC or the courts are under way.