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Practice protection under review

The West Australian Department of Health has called for submissions to be made by a number of health professions in respect of "practice protection" for regulated Western Australian health practitioners, including nurses, physiotherapists, chiropractors, medical practitioners, and others.

Practice protection is used to ensure that the public is adequately protected from harmful acts performed by health professionals.

Currently this is done by health professional specific acts, which provide for the registration and discipline of various health practitioners, for example Medical Act, Nurses Act, Physiotherapists Act.

One purpose of the review of health practitioner legislation in Western Australia is to comply with the 1995 National Competition Policy agreements between the States and Federal Governments, which required that all new and existing legislation be assessed for its impact on competition.

In implementing reform, the guiding principle is that legislation should not restrict competition unless it can be demonstrated that the objectives of the legislation can only be achieved by restricting competition, and the benefits to the community as a whole outweigh the costs.

Another purpose is to identify potentially harmful acts, which should only be performed by a registered health practitioner.

In Western Australia, one of the principle methods of practice protection is in the statutory control of health practitioner titles.

Thus, only persons who are registered in a health profession can use the title associated with that profession, for example doctor, nurse, physiotherapist.

The disadvantages of this legislation are that it provides broad definitions for the practice of potentially harmful acts, which can create difficulties for a disciplinary board when it is considering whether an untrained person performed an act contrary to the definition in a specific health practitioner Act.

Broad definitions do not identify to consumers those acts which may be considered harmful, and which should be performed by the appropriate health professional, and it excludes those health professionals which may be qualified to actually perform the act.

The Western Australian Government is seeking to amend all health practitioner legislation to conform to a core practice model with no definition of the health practice.

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