The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Amendment Act 2019 (the Amendment Act) came into force on 11 April 2019 introducing some changes for both the Dental Council and oral health professionals in New Zealand.
The Minister of Health described the Amendment Act in Parliament as “an incredibly important piece of legislation for public safety and for public confidence in the services that our health practitioners present”.
Although the changes made in the Amendment Act apply to all health regulatory authorities and health practitioners, our summary and comments focus specifically on the implications for the Dental Council and oral health practitioners.
With one exception, the amendments came into effect on 11 April 2019.
The Amendment Act introduces five-yearly independent performance reviews for the Dental Council to ensure we are carrying out our functions as intended by the HPCA Act. We expect our first review within the next 3 years. The results of the performance review must be posted on our website.
The Dental Council can now receive and act on information from any person about a practitioner’s competence, health or practice. Before the Amendment Act we were restricted to acting on information about practitioner competence received from a practitioner, an employer or the Health and Disability Commissioner.
In the past, Council did not disclose the outcome of Council investigations or any actions taken to the person making a notification. Confidentiality was maintained to preserve a practitioner’s right to privacy.
The Amendment Act now obliges us to provide information about the orders it makes to notifiers of concerns about a practitioner’s competence or health. However, it does limit the extent of information sharing to avoid disclosing too much detail about an individual practitioner. In addition, copies of any orders made by Council must be given to the employers and those who work in association with the practitioner concerned.
The Amendment Act requires the Dental Council to develop and put in place a “naming policy” within one year. This policy will determine situations where the Council will publish orders and directions made about individual practitioners under a new section 157A of the HPCA Act. This reflects the trend for greater transparency – ensuring the public can see regulation is happening.
The Amendment Act gives the Dental Council new powers to act immediately and without notice to suspend a practitioner's practising certificate. This power can be used in cases where there is significant concern about the risk to public health and safety due to the conduct of an individual practitioner pending a prosecution or investigation.
The Council now has discretion to decide whether to refer practitioners with certain Court convictions to a professional conduct committee (PCC) or to a health process, provided the practitioner consents. Once the Council receives a report on the practitioner’s health, it can then decide to take no further action, or order conditions, or refer the practitioner to a PCC.
This means that in appropriate cases and where the practitioner agrees, the Council has an alternative process available to manage these practitioners; and identify and address health issues.
Council is required to focus more on cultural competencies that will enable effective and respectful interaction with Māori. Council has already planned for a review of its cultural competence standards to take place.
The Amendment Act brings communication with practitioners into the 21st century. Practitioners must now provide us with an email address as well as a postal address.
We already invite practitioners to complete a workforce survey when they apply for their practising certificate each year. The Amendment Act gives the Council a legal mandate to collect workforce data so the Ministry can better forecast and match health needs and skills around New Zealand in the future.
The Amendment Act gives the Council specific power to revoke the accreditation of an education institution's qualification if necessary.
We are now reviewing and updating our internal processes, documents and templates to ensure they reflect the changes made by the Amendment Act.
We have already started implementing the updated HPCA Act and orders made by Council at its most recent meeting have been shared with the employers of the affected practitioners. In other cases, we have been able to give feedback to notifiers on the decisions made by Council on their notification.