Department of Health

Healthcare workers, registration and the law

Key Messages

  • Various laws regulate the practice of healthcare workers in Victoria.
  • Different types of occupational regulation apply to healthcare workers, such as voluntary certification (or self-regulation), negative licensing (or ‘code regulation’), co-regulation and statutory registration.

Healthcare workers and the law

Healthcare workers are subject to a range of laws that regulate their practice. These include:

  • occupational licensing laws (statutory registration)
  • health complaints laws
  • laws that regulate specific activities such as the use of medicines, therapeutic goods and medical radiation equipment
  • regulation of public health threats such as infectious diseases
  • consumer protection laws
  • employment law
  • other laws such as criminal law, tort law (negligence) and the law of contracts.

Types of occupational regulation

Different types of occupational regulation apply to healthcare workers in Victoria, depending on their profession. The main types are:

  • voluntary certification (or self-regulation)
  • negative licensing (or ‘code regulation’)
  • co-regulation
  • statutory registration.

Voluntary certification (or self-regulation)

Under voluntary certification, there is no occupational licensing or statutory registration law that requires a person to be registered in order to practise. Instead, members of a profession:

  • voluntarily establish an association, and
  • agree to abide by the rules and standards of the association.

The association may then:

  • receive and investigate complaints about members
  • take disciplinary action, including withdrawing membership if the conduct breaches the association’s rules.

Negative licensing (or ‘code regulation’)

Under negative licensing, there is no requirement for person to hold a licence before they start to practise. However, there are powers to apply sanctions and prohibit them from practising if they breach specified standards.

A form of negative licensing known as ‘code regulation’ has been implemented in Australia. Under code regulation, a code of conduct is enacted by law and powers are conferred on a complaints body to:

  • investigate breaches of the code
  • take enforcement action against a person if the breach is serious.

This action may include issuing a court-enforceable prohibition order to prevent the person from continuing to practise. Breach of this order is a criminal offence. Code regulation aims to protect the public from future harm where a person is not fit to provide health services.

Co-regulation

There are many types of co-regulation arrangements. The most common in the health sector is where a government enters into a partnership arrangement with an industry body or professional association to regulate a class of person or an activity.

The key difference between voluntary certification and co-regulation is that some of the functions undertaken by the industry body are delegated from or recognised by government. Practitioners who have met the standards administered by the industry body may then be recognised or accredited by government for other purposes, such as eligibility to access benefit schemes such as Medicare or private health insurance.

This delegation of functions is generally subject to the industry body meeting specified governance and operational standards set by government.

Statutory registration

Under a statutory registration regime, a regulatory body is established under statute and given powers to register and regulate a class of person.

Entry to the occupation is limited to those who hold the required qualifications and have met other probity standards set by the regulator.

The regulator has powers to deal with those whose practice falls below an acceptable standard. The regulator operates a public register that provides a trusted source of information about who is qualified to practise.

Reviewed 09 September 2015

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