Over the last 10 years, the Medical Council has supported the work of the Medical Benevolent Association of NSW by contributing $500 000 to provide counselling support of doctors and medical students who have had a complaint or subject to regulatory action by the Council.
'We are a registered charity that assists doctors during times of illness and crisis with the aim of helping them recover. Our services include short-term financial assistance and confidential counselling services, which are available to medical students, a doctor's family, retired doctors and families of deceased doctors.'
Dr Chris Dalton, President of the Medical Benevolent Association of NSW, says the focus of the organisation’s assistance is short term crisis support to help them get back on their feet and back to work. He believes that the Medical Council and the Association share a common goal to protect the public and to encourage doctors to practice safely.
“Broadly speaking, both the Medical Benevolent Association and the Medical Council of NSW are interested in the protection of the public. This sometimes means that doctors will be suspended from working or have restrictions placed on them. Both organisations want to encourage doctors to get back to being valuable contributors to the profession and society in general. The Association is keen to promote the rehabilitation of doctors by encouraging and supporting retraining and supervision where appropriate, and the NSW Medical Council are supporting this through their financial support.’ The Council’s funding supports the counselling services and is not used for financial assistance to doctors.
Dr Dalton acknowledges the pressure that many doctors encounter in their careers: ‘Practising medicine is a stressful job and mental health issues like anxiety and depression are fairly common among doctors. Sometimes it becomes so severe that a doctor can’t work.’ He believes the relationship between the Council and the Medical Benevolent Association can raise awareness of the problems doctors experience that can lead to suspensions or conditions being placed on them.
Over 50% of the doctors who seek assistance through the Medical Benevolent Association of NSW have had exposure to the Medical Council of NSW. The social workers who provide counselling to the doctors explained, ‘Doctors often feel anxious about how long the resolution of the complaint process will take, what the outcome will be or what is expected of them. They are worried about the resulting loss of income and how that will impact their lives in the short and the longer term. They can also feel a sense of shame and therefore find benefit from an external support service that is “outside’’ the immediate situation. Having someone who takes their call without judgement and holds a safe place to express their concerns can help them gain perspective,’ they said. ‘We help them identify ways to promote psychological and physical wellbeing and encourage them to work with, and not against, the Medical Council so that the complaint is resolved as quickly as possible and they can resume their lives more positively. In addition to this one-on-one support, we also provide referrals to other service providers and short-term financial assistance to assist them in the period that they are unable to work.’
The counselling services are completely confidential.The Medical Benevolent Association does not share any information about the identity or details of doctors or medical students using the service with the Medical Council. The ;latter promotes the use of the service with clients it engages with, but unless a doctor or medical studentr tells us directly, we have no way of knowing if they have has used the service.
Dr Dalton and the Medical Benevolent Association of NSW are extremely grateful for the financial support the NSW Medical Council has given it and hopes that both organisiations can continue to work together to help doctors and medical students who need assistance. ‘We both have the common goal of protecting the public from a doctor that may be seen to be unsafe, but we hope our processes can establish and maintain a process of rehabilitation which is beneficial to the doctor and the general public.’
You can find out more about the work of the NSW Medical Benevolent Association at www.mbansw.org.au