Fake doctors face jail time and heftier fines under strict new laws

The new laws come into effect after more than 50 prosecutions for offences under the national law since 2014. Source: Getty

While Australians expect to be treated by qualified doctors and health professionals, there have been a number of cases recently in which fraudsters have been caught deceiving patients by pretending to be registered health practitioners or more qualified than they really are.

However from Monday the law is getting even tougher on fake doctors and bogus health practitioners, with fines to increase dramatically and lengthier prison sentences to be handed down by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) under the new national law. The stricter penalties for fraudsters are intended to better protect the Australian public.

Under the amendments, offenders could face a maximum of three years in prison per offence. The maximum fines have also increased from $30,000 to $60,000 per offense for an individual and have jumped from $60,000 to $120,000 per offence for a corporate entity.

The amendments were originally passed in February, with the new offence provisions applying in all states and territories, except Western Australia. Under the national law, anyone calling themselves any of the ‘protected titles’ including ‘chiropractor’, ‘medical practitioner’ or ‘psychologist’ need to be registered with the corresponding National Board.

It’s an offence for anyone to knowingly or recklessly claim to be a registered practitioner when they’re not or use symbols or language that may lead a reasonable person to believe that an individual is a registered health practitioner or is qualified to practice in a health profession.

“All health ministers recognise that penalties need to be tougher for serious cases. When someone pretends to be a registered health practitioner, they pose a significant risk to the public,” AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said in a statement. “We don’t hesitate to act when someone is pretending to be a registered practitioner.

“And from today, I send a message if you claim to be registered when you’re not – you will face serious consequences when you are caught,”

The move has also been welcomed by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF). The organisation said the strengthened provisions will benefit both the public and practitioners.

“The public places a great amount of trust in nurses and the work they do. Anyone who falsely claims to be a nurse betrays this trust and must face the consequences,” ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler said. “These extended offence provisions are important in further protecting registered professions such as nursing and as another way to ensure patient safety.”

AHPRA has successfully prosecuted multiple cases where people were falsely claiming to be registered practitioners when they weren’t. For example, Raffaele Di Paolo was prosecuted in two state courts for tricking patients into believing he was a medical practitioner and specialist health practitioner, when he was actually a homeopath. He was fined more than $28,000 and was sentenced to nine years and six months in jail.

Other prosecutions have included people pretending to be physiotherapists, psychologists, dentists and pharmacists.

“We have successfully completed more than 50 prosecutions for offences under the national law since 2014. Fake practitioners betray the trust which patients place in them,” Fletcher said. “We want to highlight these outcomes to inform consumers, and health practitioners, on what to watch out for.”

The public can check the online register of practitioners to confirm if they are seeing a registered practitioner who is qualified and meeting national standards.

Do you think these penalties are strong enough? Have you ever experienced a fake or bogus health professional?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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