Special editor IanFreckelton . Published by the Federation Press , Sydney , Australia . 2006 . Paperback , 254 pages . ISBN 1 86287 620 7 . RRP $33
Reviewed by Stephen Duckett
Reform and Development Division, Queensland Health
Regulation of health practitioners is a contentious area. On the one hand, the profession being regulated generally believes that they are best placed to regulate their members, and self-regulation is often seen as a distinguishing hallmark of a profession. But regulation of professions is supposed to protect the public interest and whether this is best served by health professional regulation bodies dominated by members of the profession is a matter of some debate. The challenge then is to ensure that members of professional registration boards act to protect the public rather than professional self-interest. During 2006 these issues came to the fore in debates over national registration proposals in Australia. Shortly before the 2007 election, then Prime Minister Howard derailed the national consensus and referred registration issues back for further consultation.
It can be seen that registration of health professionals is a lively political issue. This book is a republication of a special issue of the journal Law in Context, edited from LaTrobe University. The book/special issue includes chapters/articles covering a range of aspects of health professional regulation, some of which address the politics of regulation, although not, in this reviewer's opinion, sufficiently canvassing the issues of professional control. That is not to say that these contemporary political issues are ignored, Anne-Louise Carlton, covers some of them in her chapter/article on regulation, which is informed by her participation in the current moves towards national regulation and Thomas’ chapter/article outlines the way in which responses to the Camden Campbelltown affair challenged the systems approach because of the (perceived) political need for scapegoats and blame. This latter chapter/article has continuing relevance to those of us involved in managing adverse events in the full glare of media publicity. Harvey and Faunce's chapter on Patel, Bundaberg and overseas trained doctors generally canvasses well the issues highlighted in the Bundaberg case, but doesn’t situate the decisions which led to Dr Patel's appointment in the complex trade-off between community expectations about service delivery and the significant shortage of medical practitioners in Queensland, a shortage which is more acute in rural and regional settings. Reid's chapter/article on the New South Wales performance assessment process is a useful one for those interested in improving the management of poorly performing professionals. The collection is rounded out by chapters/articles on regulation of complementary therapies/therapist regulation in Indonesia and the special case of billing practices of medical professionals.
Overall, this book/special edition is a very useful contribution to the literature on health practitioner regulation. This field is a very important one in shaping the way the health system works. Additional insights from a socio legal perspective, such as those provided in this volume are important in the development of policy and practice in this field.
An important contribution of this collection is that it provided a venue for knowledgeable authors to publish about this critical issue and, as Freckelton points out, this collection of articles is a first for a law journal.