Doctors' health

Impaired Registrants (Health) Program
The Impaired Registrants Program (referred to as the Health Program) was established under the law to enable the Council to deal with impaired doctors and medical students in a constructive and non-disciplinary manner. The Council aims to ensure practitioners are fit to practise, and the Health Program is designed to protect the public while maintaining impaired doctors in practice when it is safe to do so. In relation to students, the Program is designed to protect the public while maintaining impaired students in training when it is safe to do so.

The Program is notification based, and manages registrants (doctors and medical students) suffering from psychiatric illness, problems with the abuse of alcohol or the self-administration of addictive drugs, and occasionally, physical illness. A breakdown of notification sources and characteristics of Program participants can be found in the Council's Annual Report.

Impairment has a specific statutory definition. A medical practitioner is impaired if they have a physical or mental impairment, disability, condition or disorder (including substance abuse or dependence) that detrimentally affects or is likely to detrimentally affect their capacity to practise medicine, or for a student, the student's capacity to undertake clinical training. Illness does not necessarily equate to impairment. If an unwell doctor is insightful and practices within their residual capacity, then they are not necessarily impaired for the Council's purposes. For example, registrants with blood borne viruses are not considered to be impaired, provided they practise within Council policy. Psychiatric illness and drug and alcohol abuse are likely to be of concern to the Council.

When a credible notification is received, the registrant will be assessed by a Council-appointed practitioner to determine the extent and nature of their impairment. They will then meet with two or three members of the Council's Impaired Registrants Panel to agree on the action necessary to protect the public. The most common outcome is the imposition of conditions on the registrant's registration, although on occasions, it may be necessary for the registrant to be suspended.

The Council's Health Committee monitors these conditions, which may include urine drug testing, regular reviews and assessments. Registrants are expected to fully comply with their conditions of registration so as to assure the Council that they pose no risk to the public. As the registrant demonstrates progress in rehabilitation and recovery, the conditions on their registration are gradually relaxed. While return to unconditional practice is a goal of the program, some doctors, for example those with recurring psychiatric illness, may remain on the program indefinitely, albeit with low level, occasional review by the Council.

The Health Program Handbook is provided to all registrants who enter the Health Program, to provide information about, and assist doctors in, their involvement with the Program, including:

Doctors' Health Advisory Service
The Doctors' Health Advisory Service is a confidential 24 hour referral and advice and support service for medical practitioners experiencing problems with their health.

Medical Benevolent Association of NSW
The Medical Benevolent Association of NSW (MBANSW) provides a free and confidential support service for doctors and their families in NSW and ACT. Where appropriate, MBANSW may provide supportive counselling and / or financial assistance.

An October 2013 National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students was conducted with the aims of:

  • understanding issues associated with the mental health of Australian medical students and doctors
  • increasing awareness across the medical profession and broader community of issues associated with the mental health of medical students and doctors
  • informing the development of mental health services and supports for the medical profession