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Ahpra releases latest Australian optometry complaints data  

optometrists Ahpra

The health regulator has received fewer complaints about the conduct of Australian optometrists this year, with a higher proportion of cases also resulting in no further action.

The latest optometry complaints data from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) is contained in its 2020/21 annual report released on Wednesday 24 November.

It shows there were 38 notifications lodged against 44 optometrists, including data from the NSW Health Professional Councils Authority and Queensland’s Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO). This compares with 41 complaints against 55 optometrists in 2019/20.

In terms of the 50 cases that were closed in 2020/21, 74% resulted in no further action, up from 61% the year before.

Ian Bluntish, OBA chair.

Six per cent of closed cases this year resulted in conditions being imposed or the optometrist accepting an undertaking, another 6% received a caution or reprimand, 2% had their registration cancelled and 12% were referred to another body or retained by a health complaints entity.

Overall, three cases resulted in a criminal complaint in 2020/21; two related to title protection, while the third was an advertising breach.

The majority of all complaints were made by a patient, relative or member of the public (55%), followed by a health complaints entity (13%), another practitioner (8%) and employer (8%).

Clinical care was the common type of complaint, accounting for 53%, while 10% of cases related to communication issues, 5% boundary violation, 3% medication, 3% health impairment, 3% documentation and 24% ‘other’.

The annual report figures show the number of registered optometrists continues to increase, up 4.1% from the year prior to 6,288. This is on top of 4.5% growth reported from 2018/19 to 2019/20.

Feminisation of the Australian optometry workforce continues, with 56.9% now identifying as female compared with 55.9% in 2019/20.

There was a slight dip in the number optometrists identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, from 0.2% to 0.1%.

Queensland co-regulators announce joint consideration of notifications 

Meanwhile, Ahpra also announced this month Queensland will introduce joint consideration of all notifications about health practitioners between itself, the National Boards and the OHO from 6 December 2021.

Martin Fletcher, Ahpra.

Currently, the OHO deals with the most serious matters it receives and refers most of the remaining notifications to Ahpra and National Boards. From December, all complaints made to the OHO will be shared with Ahpra and National Boards. Ahpra and the OHO will review each notification at the same time and agree on which agency should manage the matter.

Ahpra believes this change will benefit practitioners and notifiers, as it will speed up the initial assessment of notifications, reduce duplication, and enable whichever agency is best placed to manage each notification to get started sooner.

Importantly, and for the first time, the regulator said the change also enabled screening of every notification about clinical performance to be conducted by registered health practitioners employed by Ahpra.

Ahpra CEO Mr Martin Fletcher said a joint consideration approach would build on the relationship between the OHO and Ahpra in managing notifications to support access to safe, professional practitioners for Queensland and Australia more broadly.

“We’re looking forward to working even more closely with the OHO to ensure that notifications about health practitioners are assessed as quickly and consistently as possible,” Fletcher said.

“This means a better experience, both for health practitioners and notifiers.”

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