The medical sector: Oversight and regulatory mechanisms aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse

The medical sector is one of the sectors addressed in a new research report for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that finds Australian oversight bodies have inconsistent scope and powers in protecting children from sexual abuse in institutions.

Professor Ben Mathews from the Queensland University of Technology was contracted by the Royal Commission to examine the strengths and weaknesses of existing regulatory and oversight bodies in protecting children from sexual abuse.

The executive summary for medical sector regulation makes the following comments in relation to the national scheme, the national boards, public health systems and private hospitals:

An evaluation of narrow efficacy based on legislative and regulatory frameworks, and regulatory theory principles indicate that, overall, aspects of these frameworks – such as the approach to criminal history checks – provide consistent and positive strategies for regulating the health professions. However, there are areas that vary between jurisdictions and professions, such as in legislative and policy-based reporting duties. In addition, there appear to be common areas where there may be opportunities for development, including:

(1) The national scheme: (a) does not appear to engage in any other fitness to practise assessment; and (b) all national boards have a CPD requirement but none includes a component on child sexual abuse or child protection.

(2) The key policies of the boards for medical practitioners and nurses: (a) are not as direct as they might be in reinforcing legislative reporting duties; (b) do not both require or deliver training in child protection; and (c) do not appear to contain helpful resources on child sexual abuse.

(3) The regulatory frameworks of state and territory health departments: (a) are generally, but not always, comprehensive in extending a reporting duty even to non-mandated health professionals; (b) generally, but not always, require training to be delivered or attended, although whether this occurs in practice is difficult to evaluate; (c) generally, but not always, have readily accessible policy documents; (d) generally are not supported by policy documents with extensive and helpful detail; and (e) would generally benefit by having further, well-developed child sexual abuse resources available to assist health professionals.

(4) The regulatory context for private hospitals appears less robust and is likely to be more fragmented than that of the public sector. This means that, while health professionals in private hospitals would be covered by the same national regulatory frameworks and state-based obligations, they may not receive the same regulatory support (such as training and access to resources), or have the same level of state-based policy responsibilities as colleagues in public institutions

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