According to an exclusive story in the Sydney Morning Herald, posted online on May 3, the Federal Department of Health is monitoring any suspicious surgeries and participating practitioners at private hospitals around Australia that may be in breach of recent restrictions.
Due to Covid-19, elective surgeries were cancelled nationwide from March 26. Both federal and state governments compensated hospitals by paying them not to perform surgeries under a joint $2.6 billion viability guarantee.
From April 28, some elective surgeries – with tight restrictions – were lifted. A gradual restart of elective surgery proceeded, allowing category 2 and urgent category 3 procedures to proceed. These included IVF, joint replacement, post-cancer breast reconstruction, colonoscopy, cataract removal and paediatric surgery. Hospital theatre times are also only allowed to operate at 25% of capacity.
The current restrictions will be reassessed on May 11. Many industry insiders are hopeful that more restrictions will be lifted, allowing hospitals and practitioners greater scope to treat their patients. However, after concerns were raised about surgeons undertaking procedures that are normally classified as non-urgent, the Department of Health is now using Medicare capturing data to detect any cases of non-compliance.
The Federal Department of Health has said it would refer any suspicious activity to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) for investigation. The various state-based health authorities are also monitoring private hospitals to ensure compliance with the latest restrictions.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ president Tony Sparnon stated that if there were any surgeons that are found to have breached the elective surgery ban, they would face sanctions under the college’s code of conduct.
The repercussions of private hospitals and surgeons flouting the restrictions could include suspension or revocation of fellowship. Losing fellowship could lead to Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) or the Australian Medical Board imposing restrictions on surgeons’ practice.
Currently Investigating Practitioners
It is also reported that AHPRA is currently investigating a number of health practitioners. This is after receiving tip-offs accusing them of providing non-essential services. This is despite the current, strict government restrictions placed on doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, pharmacists, psychologists, optometrists and physiotherapists.
At this stage, AHPRA has not named any practitioner that is currently under investigation.
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