The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (the Act) is about public safety. Its purpose is to protect the health and safety of members of the public by providing mechanisms to ensure the life long competence of health practitioners.
The Act builds on the framework created by earlier legislation, in particular the Medical Practitioners Act 1995. All the major concepts of the Medical Practitioners Act 1995 have been carried forward into the Act, adjusted where necessary to generic terms to provide a framework that can apply to all health practitioners not just doctors.
The Act incorporates the basic principles of ongoing competence and the separation of the registration process from the disciplinary process. the HPCA Act also continues provisions for the declaration of protected quality assurance activities that were previously contained in the Medical Practitioners Act 1995.
Important key protections are in place, with provisions to ensure that:
- only health practitioners who are registered under the Act are able to use the titles protected by the Act or claim to be practising a profession that is regulated by the Act
- registered health practitioners are not permitted to practise outside their scopes of practice
- regulatory authorities are required to certify that a practitioner is competent to practise in their scope of practice when they issue an annual practising certificate
- certain activities are restricted and can only be performed by registered health practitioners as specified in the Act.
Administration of the Act
The Ministry of Health administers the Act. This includes managing the consultation processes to enable the Minister to appoint the members of the authorities.
However, while the Ministry has certain functions under the Act, the primary responsibility and accountability intentionally falls on the relevant regulatory authorities. The Act is very much about handing to the authorities responsibility for – and providing them with tools for - ensuring that health practitioners are, and remain, competent and safe to practise.
The Act contains few but important powers for the Minister. They reflect the primary purpose of the Act to protect the public and the Minister's obligations to the public. In return for the increased powers for the professions in respect of the clinical decisions that relate to fitness for registration and competence to practise, there are checks and balances to ensure that regulatory authorities are held accountable for complying with the provisions of the Act, through the Minister to Parliament. These include the Minister's powers to appoint authority members, to determine mechanisms to facilitate resolution of disputes over scopes of practice and to gazette restricted activities that can be performed only by regulated health practitioners.
The Health Pracitioners Competence Assurance Amendment Act provides for five-yearly reviews of the authorities to ensure they are carrying out their functions effectively and efficiently.
Review of the Act
Section 171 of the Act required that the Director-General of Health carry out a review of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act. This was completed in 2009.
A policy review of the Act began in 2012 to examine the policy principles underpinning the Act and the impact on the public, health care service providers and health professionals.
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Proposals resulting from the two reviews were considered by Cabinet in 2015 and an amendment bill was drafted. The Bill was introduced on 15 February 2018 and was considered by the Health Select Committee.
The Bill was passed on 9 April 2019.
Copies of the Act
The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 can be accessed online.