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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1643


Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill supports the implementation of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions.

I am very proud to be standing here today introducing this legislation as this bill is a landmark reform for our health system.

With this bill, for the first time there will be a national system for the registration and accreditation of 10 health professions, bringing consistency and uniform standards to our health workforce.

Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have already passed the bills which will put in place the national system. The ACT and Northern Territory have introduced their bills and South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia are well advanced in their planning.

National registration has been a very long time coming. The previous government, with the current Leader of the Opposition as the Minister for Health and Ageing, identified this as a goal and then decided to sit on his hands. After years of blaming the states and territories for all the problems in the health system, he was unable to work with them to deliver this key health reform.

Just as he sat on the sidelines whilst 60 per cent of Australians suffered from a shortage of doctors, he dithered on this important workforce reform as well.

The Rudd government recognised that this goal was one that had stalled and needed pursuing. We immediately got to work with the states and territories, and in March 2008 signed an intergovernmental agreement to progress the national scheme.

We know that a national scheme could reduce red tape, increase standards and improve safety for the Australian community.

We also know that a national scheme will improve the mobility of the health workforce. It will stop health professionals from having to reregister every time they step across a state border, saving time, money and inconvenience. This, for example, will help boost locum support for rural doctors as doctors become freer to work across state boundaries.

On 3 November 2009, the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 (Queensland) received royal assent in the Queensland parliament.

The national law set out the framework for the scheme, covering registration of health practitioners and accreditation of health education and training, complaints, privacy and information sharing, and transitional arrangements.

The Commonwealth does not need to apply the act for national law; however, consequential and transitional amendments are required to the Health Insurance Act 1973 to ensure that medical practitioners continue to retain the same Medicare billing eligibility from 1 July 2010.

It also streamlines the extensive systems involved in registration and recognition of medical practitioners for Medicare purposes ensuring reduction of red tape and helps to maintain the currency of the Health Insurance Act 1973 regulations and adequate access to Medicare rebates and retention of practitioners in Australia.

Streamlining the recognition of doctors for Medicare purposes

The current pathways to specialist, consultant physician and GP recognition in the Health Insurance Act 1973 necessitate communication exchange between Medicare Australia and relevant organisations, such as medical colleges, to ascertain Medicare eligibility.

These arrangements have been put in place because previously there was variation across states and territories for the recognition of specialist qualifications and general practice qualifications in the registration process.

The National Registration and Accreditation Scheme provides a nationally consistent means of identifying both specialists and GPs, and the mandatory requirement for continuing professional development in the scheme means that Medicare Australia is no longer required to monitor whether practitioners providing a Medicare rebateable service are meeting continuing professional development requirements.

It is essential that the extensive systems involved in registration and recognition of doctors for Medicare purposes are streamlined to ensure reduction of red tape, the currency of the health insurance regulations and the efficient access to Medicare rebates, as I have noted before.

The Health Insurance Act 1973 provides various pathways for recognising specialists, consultant physicians and general practitioners for Medicare purposes.

This bill provides an opportunity to streamline current specialist recognition processes under Commonwealth legislation.

This includes removing the current Vocational Register of General Practitioners, particularly now that the Medical Board of Australia has recommended that health ministers endorse general practice as a specialty for the medical profession.

I am aware that the Medical Board of Australia is soon to make decisions about the eligibility requirements for the general practitioner specialty register.

I can assure the House that this bill will not disadvantage medical practitioners that are currently registered in states and territories.

In particular, it will not disadvantage any GPs that are currently on the vocational register whether or not they have a fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners or the Australian College of Remote and Rural Medicine.

Streamlining specialist recognition will also facilitate workforce mobility and access to Medicare for international medical graduates.

Conclusion

The National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions will modernise the regulation of health professionals by creating a single regulatory environment.

By ending the duplication of effort, multiple standards and red tape caused by separate systems in each state and territory, we will have a more workable registration scheme for Australian patients and practitioners that also contributes to improving the safety of our health system for all Australians.

It provides the community with reassurance that health professionals across Australia will meet a common set of standards. Our health workforce will also benefit from the improved mobility the national scheme will offer.

I would like to extend my thanks to all of the professional groups who have constructively engaged in an incredibly complex task over the last four years—this includes the current state and territory health professional boards who have faced enormous change.

I would also like to recognise the expertise and hard work of the officials who have undertaken the work that is making a national registration a reality.

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge my ministerial colleagues around the country, who are all committed to a national scheme for the registration of health professionals and have put the national interest first in supporting this change.

I look forward to the national law being adopted in the remaining jurisdictions over the coming months and the implementation of the national registration and accreditation scheme for the first time in Australia.

This is an important piece of health reform work and I am very pleased to be commending it to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.