[The comments made in this article and given at the conference were appropriate at the time. Since then, the South Australian Parliament was prorogued and an election held. The proposed new Medical Practitioners Act had not passed both Houses of the Parliament and has therefore lapsed. At this time, I am not aware of what the new Government may include in a Bill it may wish to introduce.]
The South Australian Medical Practitioners Act 1983 is currently being reviewed and the new Bill is before Parliament. The new Medical Practitioners Act will call for the registration of medical students with the South Australian Medical Board, and will aim to be supportive of medical students. It will also contain new provisions for protecting the public.
Registration of students has several important pluses for students. It clearly brings them into the ambit of the profession with some status, and it helps identify students who, because of ill-health, may not be able to enter certain areas of clinical practice after completing their studies. Early counselling and input into those professional pathways that will be available can only be of benefit to all concerned.
Registration of students is not a new concept. New South Wales has already adopted this approach and it is currently on the agenda of several other States.
The approach of the Medical Board in South Australia has always been to support both individual members and the medical profession in general while retaining its statutory requirement of public protection.
Under the new Act, the SA Medical Board will require much more information on the health of individual doctors and students, particularly in relation to infectious diseases. While transmission rates of bloodborne viruses from healthcare professionals to patients are low, such transmissions do occur, with potentially serious consequences for patients.
As part of the Board's role of public protection, it is appropriate that the Board is made aware of practitioners who are infected with bloodborne viruses so that appropriate protective steps can be put in place. It should be emphasised that these steps would not necessarily or routinely mean denying the right to practise medicine.
There is already a requirement in the current Act for a treating doctor to report to the Board, in writing, the details of patients who are medical practitioners, and are suffering from a condition which impairs or may impair their ability to practise medicine safely. The new reporting requirements now place a responsibility on the patient who is a doctor to also report his or her own health status to the Board.
Overall, the SA Medical Board will maintain a careful balance of confidentiality, support for the medical profession, including medical students, while looking after the best interests of the general public.
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