WorkSafe Victoria funding mental health treatment even if claim rejected

June 21, 2021

WorkSafe update 21 June 2021

From 1 July 2021, WorkSafe will provide provisional payments for mental injury claims.

Eligible workers and volunteers who submit a mental injury claim can access provisional payments for reasonable treatment and services while their claim is being determined.

Provisional payments will be available for 13 weeks, regardless of whether a claim is accepted or rejected.

We’ve included a stakeholder pack with information to help you understand the key changes and how your networks can support patients.

The pack includes sample copy and digital assets for you to download and on-share with your networks through your own channels.

The Judicial College of Victoria- a useful resource

August 9, 2020

The Judicial College of Victoria provides guidance for Judges in Victoria, it describes itself as ‘ a trusted place where the judiciary come to share knowledge, wisdom and expertise.’

The home page provides information about various manuals including a civil procedures book.  Interesting information on expert witnesses  for example:

 procedure for giving evidence

The Act gives courts the power to give any direction considered appropriate in respect of experts giving evidence at trial (s65K(1)).

Such directions may include directing an expert witness to:

give evidence at any stage of a trial, including after all factual evidence has been adduced on behalf of all parties

give evidence concurrently with one or more other expert witnesses

give an oral exposition of their opinion on any issue

give their opinion of an opinion given by other expert witnesses

be examined, cross-examined or re-examined in a particular manner or sequence, including by putting to each expert witness, in turn, each issue relevant to one matter or issue at a time

be permitted to ask questions of any other expert witness who is concurrently giving evidence (s65K(2)).

The court may question an expert witness in order to identify the real issues in dispute between two or more expert witnesses. This includes questioning more than one expert witness simultaneously (s65K(3)).

Another resource is a manual on serious injury


Check it out.

Civil liability claims and psychiatric assessment

July 21, 2020

I have written a paper about civil liability claims and psychiatric assessment. Click here to read the document. The paper refers to provisions of the Victorian Wrongs Act but has some applicability to all the civil liability acts in Australia. They have common features.

The difference in Victoria and New South Wales is that claims can only proceed if there is a significant injury. In general significant psychiatric injury in Victoria is injury with an impairment of 10% or more that is not secondary or consequential to physical injury using the GEPIC. Similar provisions apply in New South Wales but the threshold is 15% or more using the PIRS.

Psychiatrists assess three main types of claims. These include falls and trips, childhood sexual abuse claims and medical negligence in all its ramifications. Most claims do not require psychiatrists to comment on liability.

In Victoria and New South Wales psychiatrists are asked to decide whether or not the claimant has reached or exceeded the threshold (thus allowing the claim to proceed) and also comment on the diagnosis and treatment requirements with an estimated cost of these requirements.

Psychiatrists are only asked to comment on liability with regard to issues arising from psychiatric or psychological treatment including psychiatric hospitalisation.

There are particular issues with each of these types of claims that are briefly discussed in the presentation.

Comments on the Productivity Commission draft report on mental health and well being

November 5, 2019

The draft report from the Productivity Commission is a comprehensive overview of mental health issues in Australia. I have selected some  sections relevant to civil psychiatry. However first a few general comments.

  1. The term Mental Health is taken as a whole, collapsing categories of people ranging from those feeling distressed because of environmental stressors, eg adjustment disorders, to people with serious mental illness. The following quote illustrates the confusion:

• In any year, approximately one in five Australians experiences mental ill-health. While most people manage their health themselves, many who do seek treatment are not receiving the level of care necessary. As a result, too many people suffer additional preventable physical and mental distress, relationship breakdown, stigma, and loss of life satisfaction and opportunities.
• The treatment of mental illness has been tacked on to a health system that has been largely designed around the characteristics of physical illness. But in contrast to many physical health conditions mental illness tends to first emerge in younger people (75% of those who develop mental illness, first experience mental ill-health before the age of 25 years) raising the importance of identifying risk factors and treating illness early where possible.

In these 2 paragraphs it is unclear as to whether or not mental ill-health and mental illness are the same. Are the statistics in the second paragraph relevant to the first paragraph?

The result is equivalent to a report discussing prevention, treatment and social support options for all physical illness without clarifying what conditions are being discussed. In other words, by taking mental ill-health (their term) as an entity it misses out on the syndromal issues regarding different causation,symptoms, effects of symptoms and appropriate direct and other care.

2. The costing ranges from accurate (2018-2019 Commonwealth expenditure on mental health care – $3.6bn ) to a questimate (The annual cost of informal care provided by family and friends).  The basis of this and other such estimates are discussed in an appendix but are impossible to obtain with any accuracy, nevertheless it and other estimates are placed side by side with much more accurate figures. In my view this is misleading.  This figure is also said to be a conservative estimate!

3. The section on work and mental health is all encompassing. However it does not explore the complex psycho-socio-medical milieu of many mental health claims. Those of us who do the work of assessing claimants know of these issues and are aware that relationship issues are usually paramount, no matter the listed cause of the psychological injury.

I was pleased to see it picked up on the discrimination against claimants with work related psychological injuries in accessing benefits.

here are a few excerpts:


Table 1 Estimated cost of mental ill-health and suicide 2018-19

Cost category $ billion per year

Australian Government expenditure

healthcare (includes prevention) 3.6

other portfolios (eg. employment, psychosocial support) 1.3

State and Territory Government expenditure

healthcare (includes prevention) 6.9

other portfolios (eg. education, housing, justice) 4.4

Individual out-of-pocket expenses 0.7

Insurer payments for healthcare 1.0

Informal care provided by family and friends 15.0

Loss of productivity and reduced participation 9.9-18.1

Cost to economy (excluding the cost of diminished health and wellbeing) 43-51

Cost of diminished wellbeing (for those living with mental ill-health or self-inflicted injuries, and/or dying prematurely, including those who die by suicide) 130

Other costs that overlap with (and cannot be added to) the above

Costs to the economy of suicide and suicide attempts (excludes the costs of pain and suffering of the individual and their family and friends) 16-34

Income support payments for those with mental ill-health and carers 9.7

• Cost to the Australian economy of mental ill-health and suicide

– $43 to $51 billion per year

Including State and Commonwealth costs re healthcare, education, housing and justice-insurer payments healthcare-informal care family/friends/ loss of productivity

• Plus approximately $130bn per year associated with reduced health and life expectancy

TOTAL COST $173bn – $181bn

Productivity Commission modelled the cost of forgone output due to mental ill health  $9.9 billion – $18.1 billion in 2018-19 (does not include absenteeism cost)

Workers Compensation

Provisional liability and interim payments

Some workers compensation schemes provide support for all workers compensation claims — not just mental health related claims — prior to liability being determined: the New South Wales scheme refers to these arrangements as provisional liability, South Australia as interim payments and the Tasmanian scheme as ‘without prejudice’ payments (table 19.2).

Under these arrangements, the injured worker is assumed to be entitled to benefits (including for the loss of income), and is supported on the basis of this assumption, unless and until a decision on liability is made to the contrary. These arrangements provide for the payment of benefits (for a specified period) and medical expenses (typically to a specified amount) before a decision is made on liability under the relevant legislation. For example, the Tasmanian scheme makes ‘without prejudice payments’ for limited medical expenses up to the value of $5000 and the New South Wales scheme meets medical expenses of up to $7500 under provisional liability. This can reduce delays for an injured worker in gaining access to the appropriate medical attention and income and reduce other potential stressors while the decision of liability is being determined. However, where a final determination is made to deny the claim any payments made are recoverable as a debt in South Australia whereas in New South Wales and Tasmania the insurer is not able to recoup these payments.

Productivity Commission Recommendations

  1. Individual placement and support programs that assist people with mental illness to work and reduce reliance on income support.
  2. Mental health part of workplace health and safety, with codes of practice for employers developed and implemented.
  3. No-liability clinical treatment should be provided for mental health related workers compensation claims until the injured worker returns to work or up to six months.

These recommendations, especially 1 and 2 are already being done but the return to work rate for people with work related psychiatric injury has not changed for more than 10 years.

The 3rd recommendation is problematic, who will pay and why is this limited to people with mental health problems?

I commend the draft report to you for whiling away a pleasant Sunday afternoon.



Expert witness issues – from a legal perspective

April 22, 2019

A web-site called ExpertsDirect an agency for expert witnesses of all types  has a good deal of information on its website relevant to expert witnesses. I have included in the Publications section 2 articles.  One is on Expert Witness bias and the other on lawyers editing Expert Witness reports.

The website is

Expert Witnesses, some changes to immunity from negligence suits

September 16, 2018

In the context of revising my book,’The DIY’ Guide to Civil Forensic Psychiatry’ I came across a paper by Tina Cockburn And Bill Madden entitled

Expert Witness Immunity In Australia after Attwells V Jackson Lalic Lawyers: A Smaller and Less Predictable Shield?

This paper gives a comprehensive overview of the current situation regarding expert witnesses and liability in Australia.  By contrast with the UK, New Zealand and Canada where expert witnesses are not immune for negligence suits, in Australia we are still immune from negligence suit in relation to court work, and work done out of court which is intimately connected with the work in court. The latter is of particular significance in medical negligence litigation given that such claims most often resolve without a court hearing. However the the High Court of Australia in Attwells v Jackson Lalic Lawyers Pty Ltd upheld the advocates’ immunity from suit in negligence. Crucially however, the majority took a narrower approach as to the scope of the immunity by holding that it does not usually extend to negligent advice which leads to the settlement of a case by agreement between the parties. It is worth reading the article.

During the recent Forensic faculty Conference there was a paper given about the situation in the UK where it appears some expert witnesses have suffered draconian consequences! Let us hope the situation here remains unchanged.


WorkSafe Victoria- dialogue with psychiatrists II – another bit of chicanery

March 13, 2018

During 2017 WorkSafe Victoria invited the Victorian committee of the College Faculty of Forensic Psychiatry to meet and discuss a number of issues including who should do IME work, documentation, questions asked, timing, security, and even fees. We had two meetings, I posted my thoughts at that time, they proved to be prescient! We were to have another meeting in July that did not proceed and we heard nothing further.

All IMEs then received a document  dated 31 January, 2018 that included several attachments.

Dear IMEs,
At WorkSafe we are looking for better ways to work with our IME’s.
It is important to us that you are kept up to date with relevant and useful information to support you in your roles as IME’s with WorkSafe.
Strategic Communications
Firstly, we are trying a different approach to the  way that we will communicate with you to keep you informed about important updates through our IME Insight.
In this issue:

  • Mental Injury claims and the updated questions for Psych IME’s (see attachments)
    · Conflict of Interest: Have you got the processes in place to mitigate Conflict of Interest?
    · Recruitment Process (Update of the waves & dates)

We want to hear from you
Have ideas or feedback on how we can support you in your roles or to let us know if this type of update is useful, please contact
(See attached file: IME newsletter – issues one – jan 18.pdf)(See attached file: New Mental Injury IME Question Effective 18 December 2017.docx)(See attached file: New Mental Injury Questions A Guide for Practitioners V1 Dec 2017.docx)(See attached file: New-IME-Mental-Injury-Questions-IME-Coms V3 2018 (002).png)
Kind Regards
WorkSafe IME Provider Engagement Team

One attachment was the newsletter called ‘IME Insight’ dated 1 January 2018, a one-page document stating that there were new mental Mental injury questions

Another was “the New Mental Injury IME Questions” of which there are eight questions but so many sub- questions that in all there are a total 36 questions. There is also a guide to these questions, These questions in this guide were developed by the following:

Karen Chapman | Project Co-ordinator

Chris Lyons | Provider and Quality Co-ordinator

Dielle Felman  | Consultant Psychiatrist MBBS (Hons), MPM, FRANZCP

Dr Felman was placed in a difficult position.  She was asked to give advice about these questions but had no involvement with the Forensic faculty committee and was essentially speaking for herself.

The chair of the forensic faculty Victorian committee then contacted Lisa Boyd,who had been running the process and was told “We are looking for a very broad-based approach to liaising with psychiatry”; having the Forensic Faculty as the point of liaison does not seem to fit with this!

So much for consultation – Not happy Worksafe. It is consistent with my experiences with WorkSafe extending over 25 years.  I have been a member of the AMA VWA/TAC committee during much of this time and it is the same old story, bullshit consultation (to tick the box) and on they go doing what they intended doing all along.  I have decided to not re-apply to be an IME.

Safe Work Australia’s advice re bullying

October 12, 2017

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

It is a risk to health and safety because it may affect the mental and physical health of workers. Taking steps to prevent it from occurring and responding quickly if it does is the best way to deal with workplace bullying.

Bullying can take different forms including psychological, physical or even indirect—for example deliberately excluding someone from work-related activities. It can be obvious and it can be subtle, which means it’s not always easy to spot.

Some examples of workplace bullying include:

  • abusive or offensive language or comments
  • aggressive and intimidating behaviour
  • belittling or humiliating comments
  • practical jokes or initiation
  • unjustified criticism or complaints.

What is not workplace bullying

Not all behaviour that makes a worker feel upset or undervalued is workplace bullying.

Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way is not workplace bullying. Managers are responsible for monitoring the quality and timeliness of work and providing staff with feedback on their performance. If performance issues need to be addressed, the conversation needs to be constructive and supportive, and focus on the positives as well as the negatives. It should not be humiliating or demeaning.

Unreasonable behaviour may involve unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment, which in isolation is not workplace bullying. Discrimination on the basis of a protected trait in employment may be unlawful under anti-discrimination, equal employment opportunity, workplace relations and human rights laws.

Differences of opinion and disagreements are also generally not workplace bullying. However, in some cases, conflict that is not managed may escalate to the point where it becomes workplace bullying.

Implications of workplace bullying

There are legal obligations to consider all health and safety risks in the workplace including workplace bullying.

Failure to take steps to manage the risk of workplace bullying can result in a breach of WHS laws.

Workplace bullying is best dealt with by taking steps to prevent it from happening and responding quickly if it does occur. The longer the bullying behaviour continues, the harder it becomes to repair working relationships and the greater the risk to health and safety.

Effects of bullying

Workplace bullying can seriously harm worker mental health with depression, psychological distress and emotional exhaustion common outcomes for bullied workers. These health outcomes may adversely impact the workplace with workers taking sick leave and being less productive (presenteeism), both of which damage productivity.

Managing the risk of workplace bullying

Organisations can minimise the risk of workplace bullying by taking a proactive approach to identify early, any unreasonable behaviour and situations likely to increase the risk of workplace bullying occurring.

Organisations should implement control measures to manage these risks, and monitor and review the effectiveness of these measures. This could include activities such as:

  • Regularly consulting with workers and health and safety representatives to find out if bullying is occurring or if there are factors likely to increase the risk of workplace bullying.
  • Setting the standard of workplace behaviour, for example through a code of conduct or workplace bullying policy.
  • Designing safe systems of work by clearly defining jobs and providing workers with the resources, information and training they need to carry out their work safely.
  • Implementing workplace bullying reporting and response procedures.
  • Developing productive and respectful workplace relationships through good management practices and effective communication.
  • Providing information and training on workplace bullying policies and procedures, available support and assistance, and how to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
  • Prioritising measures that foster and protect the psychological health of employees.

Benefits of preventing workplace bullying

In 2016, we published a report that outlines how improving management commitment to psychological health and safety could be an innovative strategy to reduce lost productivity, as well as substantially improve the wellbeing of workers.

The report interrogated data from the 2014–15 Australian Workplace Barometer Project, collected via telephone from 4,242 employees nationwide.

Key findings included:

  • The total cost of depression to Australian employers due to presenteeism and absenteeism is estimated to be approximately $6.3 billion per annum.
  • Workers with psychological distress took four times as many sick days per month and had a 154% higher performance loss at work than those not experiencing psychological distress. This equates to an average cost of $6,309 per annum in comparison with those not experiencing psychological distress.
  • Relative to workers with high engagement, workers with low engagement have approximately 12% more sick days per month and an average performance loss of eight per cent, costing employers $4796 per annum.

What to do if you experience bullying

  • Check if your workplace has a bullying policy and reporting procedure you can follow. The policy should outline how your organisation will prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
  • If you feel safe and comfortable doing this, calmly tell the other person that you object to their behaviour and ask them to stop it. They may not realise the effect their behaviour is having on you or others, and your feedback may give them the opportunity to change their actions.
  • Seek advice from another person, for example a supervisor or manager, human resources officer or health and safety representative to help you work out if the behaviour you have been experiencing is workplace bullying, as early as possible. Your employer (or other PCBU) can’t address the problem if they don’t know about it.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about bullying in the workplace. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.

In some circumstances, an order to prevent or stop a worker being bullied can be made under the Fair Work Act 2009 by contacting the Fair Work Commission (link is external).

The Australian Human Rights Commission (link is external) investigates and resolves complaints (under federal laws) of bullying based on a person’s sex, disability, race or age. It can also investigate and resolve complaints of workplace bullying based on a person’s criminal record, trade union activity, political opinion, religion or social origin.

There are a number of services available to people who are feeling depressed, stressed or anxious as a result of bullying behaviour. They include:

Victorian WorkSafe response to ombudsman’s report, an oxymoron

August 9, 2017

There were complaints by the ombudsman that claims agents were using preferred psychiatrists, WorkSafe have endeavoured to deal with this by centralising  the appointment process however  anecdotally it appears that they have outsourced this to others including eReports and other  such agents totally going against the concept they are espousing.


Read below to see the drama unfolding. I will keep you informed


Since my last blog in June 2017 there have been further meetings with representatives of WorkSafe and representatives of the College and the medicolegal group.  They intend to  centralise all appointments for psychiatrists so as to prevent the notion of preferred psychiatrists and we expressed our concerns about being locked into providing timeslots with no guarantee of  payment amongst other things. We have raised a number of other issues with them including funding  but they refused to deal with this and it is clear that they have their own agenda (as always).


In the meantime we heard that eReports and other agents had been promised a certain number of appointments  a week. We had  great concerns about this.this was  accentuated by the WorkSafe draft Service Standards  document, the relevant parts were as follows:


  • WorkSafe requires the IME to reply to any complaint received by WorkSafe and forwarded to the IME within 10 business days. The complaint must be addressed in full and the reply completed in a format acceptable for review by all parties including the injured worker. Failure to respond to the complaint in 10 business days may result in suspension of IME approval.
  • When IMEs are renewing their AHPRA registrations, the IME is to forward a copy of their registration including any annexures, conditions, undertakings, or reprimands to WorkSafe to ensure continuation of IME approval with WorkSafe Victoria. In addition, WorkSafe Victoria will audit the IMEs approval status periodically, along with AHPRA registration audits.
  • IMEs are expected to have access to email and internet services.


  1. Appointments
    • IMEs must accept a reasonable number of referrals to conduct independent medical examinations. Subject to leave, as a general rule IMEs must have appointments available within 7 days of a request, or demonstrate that booked IME appointments are in place within 7 days of a request  Repeated unavailability of appointments without reasonable excuse may result in suspension or revocation of IME approval.

2.2     The person to be examined must not be kept waiting for the examination for an unreasonable time.  IMEs should aim to see Injured Workers within 30 minutes of the scheduled appointment time. In the event that the Injured Worker has not presented for the appointment time, it is up to the discretion of the IME as to whether the examination will go ahead.


2.3     IMEs should notify the referring case manager of any appointments that they need to cancel as soon as is practical after they become aware of the need for the cancellation, to allow the case manager to rebook the appointment with the next available IME.


2.4    IMEs should accept referrals or undertake an examination for conditions for which they are qualified and experienced to provide an expert independent opinion.


The following letter was sent to WorkSafe

We write to you on behalf of the Victorian Medicolegal Group concerning the above proposed “requirements”.

The Medicolegal Group represents the vast majority of psychiatrists engaged by WorkSafe as accredited Independent Medical Examiners. As such we have always considered ourselves to be an integral component of the Victorian WorkSafe system. Engaged by WorkSafe under the terms of the Accident Compensation Act 1985, our role has been to provide expert medical advice to assist WorkSafe in determining the outcome of claims and assisting with WorkSafe’s aim of returning injured workers to appropriate employment.

Over the years, we have demonstrated our willingness to proactively assist WorkSafe. For example, our members have conducted training sessions in report writing, provided quality assurance monitoring and even the development of the gazetted measure of impairment for Mental Disorders and training in its use.

The Medicolegal Group also facilitates monthly peer review group meetings for psychiatric IMEs, a critical element in optimising the ongoing production of high quality psychiatric reports for WorkSafe. We see no reason why this cooperation should not continue into the future and indeed is enhanced.

Our concern is with the changes to the booking systems in the proposed arrangements. We believe that it is unfair to request any contractor – let alone a medical professional – to make available blocks of hours on the possibility that these may be contracted. Where these hours are not actually booked for sessions, the Authority does not propose to compensate the practitioner. We believe that this is unduly harsh and has the potential to seriously affect the viable operation of our practices. We would point out that this system has, to an extent, been trialled with  respect to stress  claims  and  has already resulted in  the   realisation  of  these concerns. The planned roll-out of these changes to cover all bookings will only exacerbate the problems associated with this new process.

It is for this reason that members of our group have not signed the proposed agreement until we have resolved this matter.

We would point out that we have already endeavoured to resolve this matter directly with Worksafe but have been unsuccessful in receiving any meaningful response, if at all. Our concerns over this situation have been heightened due to the fact that, under the terms of  the proposed agreement, it is the intention of WorkSafe to institute this new booking system by mid-August. As a consequence, on 28th June 2017, we sought urgent discussions with WorkSafe to propose an alternative booking system that we believe addresses the real needs of the Authority. Unfortunately we have received no reply.

In addition, correspondence and communications from corporate medicolegal providers, claiming to have agreements with Worksafe to undertake up to thirty psychiatric IME appointments per week, suggest that WorkSafe has sought arrangements with those providers outside the parameters of the agreement proposed to individual practitioners. We consider this a breach of good faith.

We believe that this situation could have been avoided if WorkSafe had in place a process of proper consultation with the profession to discuss changes such as these prior to their being issued. We note that we were advised by Worksafe representatives of the proposed arrangements at a face to face meeting in June, and expressed our concerns at this time. However this was not a consultation as Worksafe has proposed to roll-out the new requirements with no attempt having been made to respond to our concerns.

It is in this regard that we propose a regular process of consultation with the profession as a forum to highlight and discuss changes and improvements to the processes of our engagement and any other matters relevant to our engagement. We believe that this would restore good-faith relations between WorkSafe and our profession.

We would also point out that we write to you as a result of the failure of communication by officers of WorkSafe, who have failed to respond to our correspondence of the 28th June 2017 requesting urgent discussions to identify problems and find solutions.

Again we would stress that we believe that this is an unfortunate situation, given the history of previous cooperation between all parties concerned. We would appreciate the opportunity to address these issues to you in person at the earliest opportunity.


The Senate recommendations re complaints against health care providers

May 11, 2017

The Senate Community Affairs References Committee

Complaints mechanism administered under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law May 2017




Recommendation 1

5.14 The committee recommends that AHPRA review and amend the way it

engages with notifiers throughout the process to ensure that all notifiers are

aware of their rights and responsibilities and are informed about the progress

and status of the notification.


Recommendation 2

5.24 The committee recommends that AHPRA and the national boards develop

and publish a framework for identifying and dealing with vexatious complaints.


Recommendation 3

5.28 The committee recommends that the COAG Health Council consider

whether recourse and compensation processes should be made available to health practitioners subjected to vexatious claims.


Recommendation 4

5.34 The committee recommends that AHPRA and the national boards

institute mechanisms to ensure appropriate clinical peer advice is obtained at the earliest possible opportunity in the management of a notification.


Recommendation 5

5.39 The committee recommends that AHPRA immediately strengthen its

conflicts of interest policy for members of boards and that the Chair of the board should make active inquiries of the other decision makers about actual or potential conflicts of interest prior to consideration of a notification.


Recommendation 6

5.44 The committee recommends that AHPRA develop a transparent

independent method of determining when external advice is obtained and who provides that advice.


Recommendation 7

5.48 The committee recommends that AHPRA consider providing greater

remuneration to practitioners called upon to provide clinical peer advice.


Recommendation 8

5.56 The committee recommends that AHPRA formally induct and educate

board members on the way the regulatory powers of the board can be used to

achieve results that both manages risk to the public and educates practitioners.


Recommendation 9

5.61 The committee recommends that AHPRA conduct additional training with

staff to ensure an appropriately broad understanding of the policies it

administers and provide staff with ongoing professional development related to the undertaking of investigations.


Recommendation 10

5.67 The committee recommends that the COAG Health Council consider

amending the National Law to reflect the Psychology Board of Australia’s policy

on single expert witness psychologists acting in family law proceedings.


Recommendation 11

5.71 The committee recommends that the COAG Health Council consider

making a caution an appellable decision.


Recommendation 12

5.74 The committee recommends that the COAG Health Council consider

whether notifiers should be permitted to appeal board decisions to the relevant tribunal.


Recommendation 13

5.80 The committee recommends that AHPRA take all necessary steps to

improve the timeliness of the complaints process and calls on the Australian

Government to consider avenues for ensuring AHPRA has the necessary

additional resources to ensure this occurs.


Recommendation 14

5.81 The committee recommends that AHPRA institute a practice of providing

monthly updates to complainants and medical professionals whom are the

subject of complaints.


Not just whinging- a new style of worker support groups

January 16, 2017

Practicing occupational physician, Dr Peter Sharman writes about using the evidence base to guide clinical practice and improve health outcomes in compensation systems on his website.  Most of us have seen some of these sites, a considerable part of their content is doctor bashing. His latest article is about a new approach to injured workers’ support groups.  The full article can be read at

 Note the establishment of sensible groups in NSW, South Australia and Victoria.

 In the early days of this site I wrote an article about Injured Worker Support Websites where I asked for comments about the best approach to provide such support. There was a lot of negativity about the WorkCover Victim website at that time. Here is an excerpt from what I considered to be a balanced comment about my article:

“I don’t think websites run by injured workers who are entrenched in their own sick roles or victim roles themselves, will ever be healthy or empowering to other injured workers; its like leaving the lunatics to run the asylum and wondering why no one is getting any better. However, these seem to be the very people who tend to set up these websites and Facebook groups. Without an appropriately skilled person facilitating or moderating these support websites and focusing its members on positive mind-sets and positive skill building, they devolve into an orgy of victimhood, toxic behaviours and one big pity-party.”

The best known active professional support sites include the New South Wales based Injured Workers Support Network co-ordinated by Rowan Kernebone and in South Australia, Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson runs the Work Injured Resource Connection which provides, as well as information, more practical help through their ‘Bags of Love’ programme and has set up a Deceased Workers Memorial Forest in commemoration of lives lost due to the work place .

 More recently the Injured Workers Group of Victoria has set up a site operated by injured workers (I understand with Rowan’s assistance).

Stress Claims – How common are they and have they become more common?

November 28, 2016

Mental stress has accounted for an average of 95% of mental disorder claims over the past 10 years.


SafeWork Australia produced a report about this in April 2013.


Their findings were:

Mental stress claims are the most expensive form of workers’ compensation

claims because of the often lengthy periods of absence from work typical of

these claims.

>> Mental stress claims are predominantly made by women.

>> Men and women are more likely to make a claim for mental stress as they

get older but after they reach 54 years the likelihood that they made a claim


>> More Professionals made claims for mental stress than other any other

occupation with over a third of their claims made for Work pressure.

>> There were more mental stress claims made for Work pressure than any

other sub-category.

>> The hazards that result in mental stress claims vary with worker age.

Younger workers are more likely to make claims as a result of Exposure to

workplace or occupational violence, whereas Work pressure is the main

cause of mental stress claims for older workers, peaking for those aged

45–49 years.

>> General clerks, School teachers and Police Officers accounted for the

majority of claims for Work pressure.

>> Women were around three times more likely than men to make a workers’

compensation claim due to Work-related harassment &/or workplace

bullying. Approximately one-third of all claims in this mental stress subcategory

were made by workers in the occupational categories of Advanced

clerical & service workers and General clerks.

>> For the industries with the highest number/rate of mental stress claims, the

majority of claims were for Work pressure. This was particularly true in the

Education sector. Claims for Exposure to workplace or occupational violence

were notable in the Retail trade industry, while the Transport & storage and

Health & community services industries dominated claims for Exposure to a

traumatic event.


WorkSafe Australia produced a further report in 2015 – Work-Related Mental Disorders profile


Their findings were that 6% of all workers compensation claims were for mental disorders .


The typical compensation payment for such a claim was $23,600 totalling $480 million for the 7820 Australian claimants. The average period of time spent off work was 14.8 weeks. 39% of these claims were for harassment/bullying/exposure to violence. 90% of all mental disorder claims were attributed to stress.


65% of all mental disorder claims were awarded to workers aged 40 or over.


For 1 million hours of work there were 0.5 mental disorder claims.


Occupations most at risk:

First responders-police, paramedics and firefighters comprising one in five of this group

welfare and community workers affirm one in 10 were compensated, prison officers, bus and rail drivers and teachers of whom one in five were compensated.


The more common conditions included reactions to stressors (41%), anxiety/stress disorders (28%) and post traumatic stress disorder (11%). Combined they accounted for, on average, about 4/5 mental disorder claims over the period.


The most up-to-date statistics are those provided by WorkSafe Western Australia in October 2016.


Their findings were that: Over four years, the number of stress-related claims increased by 25 per cent.  In 2015/16, there were 547 stress-related claims lodged,  representing

3.2 per cent of all workers’ compensation lost-time claims.


Although the number of stress-related claims increased, the frequency rate (claims per million hours worked) for stress-related claims is stable.


Females accounted for 59 per cent of stress-related claims compared with 41 per cent for males.

In terms of prevalence of stress claims, female workers tend to have a higher frequency rate.

The top three industries for stress-related claims were:


Health care and social assistance           25%

public administration and safety            24%

education and training                               16%


The causes of stress and later claims included:


Work pressure                                              39%

Harassment and bullying                           23%

exposure to a traumatic event                               19%

exposure to workplace violence            14%

other causes                                                  5%


There appears to be a significant drop in the number of stress-related claims in WA representing 3.2% of all workers compensation lost time claims, the WorkSafe Australia statistics were that 6% of all claims were stress-related. In Victoria in the late 1990s about 5.5% of all claims were stress-related. There appears to have been little real change in the incidence of stress-related disorders over the last 20 years.

RANZCP Position Statement 89 Patient–psychiatrist confidentiality: the issue of subpoenas October 2016

The College has issued a strong position statement condemning the use of subpoenas to access patient records without their consent and refers to significant issues damaging patent- psychiatrist trust and possibly a breakdown in therapy.  it is worth reading.

A Glimpse of the Monash-Epworth Longitudinal Head Injury Outcome Study

September 15, 2016

The Longitudinal Head Injury Outcome Study follows up a large cohort of individuals who have sustained moderate to severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). This project aims to provide a comprehensive picture of the changes experienced by people who have sustained a TBI as well as their families over a period of 20 years. Changes are captured in terms of living skills, study, employment, recreation, as well as social and personal relationships. In addition, factors predicting outcomes are identified in each of these domains.

This study comprised 666 individuals from the Monash-Epworth Rehabilitation Research Centre (MERRC) database who had been competitively employed prior to injury, for whom Compensation data Base data were available and who had received loss of earnings payments after injury. In addition, using the CRD the authors were able to begin examining whether specific types of service utilisation were associated with employment status. Each individual’s services were aggregated over the first six months post-injury. This included medical services, such as surgeries, pathology, radiology, and psychiatry, as well as allied health services, which included psychology, social work, and vocational assistance.

The authors have highlighted the presence of a good recovery group as well as groups of individuals who show poorer outcomes despite having similar injury severity. These are associated with greater emotional distress, low economic and family support, low resilience and greater service utilisation. This group also incurs greater costs. They also identified a group of individuals who were potentially affected by reduced self-awareness of injury-related changes, leading to under-reporting of problems and conversely by emotional distress potentially leading to some over-reporting of symptoms. Their findings further highlighted the factors other than injury severity that contribute to longer-term outcomes. These include the personal strengths of the individual, including independence and self-esteem and resilience, as well as economic and family supports, their level of emotional distress and motivation to recover.

The authors have identified some key predictors of early return to work (RTW) as well as more persistent unemployment. Individuals were more likely to return to work in the first 6 months if they had shorter duration of post traumatic amnesia (PTA) and if they were in managerial or professional occupations prior to injury. A combination of background, injury-related, and service utilisation variables predicted more persistent unemployment between 6 months and three years post-injury. Individuals were more likely to experience a protracted RTW if they were older, female, were labourers, machinery workers, or technician prior to injury, had longer duration of PTA, and had a moderate or major limb injury. In addition, greater utilisation of specialist practitioner, psychology services, and analgesic medication within the first 6 months was associated with delayed RTW. Conversely, assessment and rehabilitation for return to driving was associated with earlier RTW, highlighting the importance of driving for RTW. These findings demonstrate the roles of complex physical injuries, pain and mental health factors in delaying return to employment following TBI.

Post-traumatic stress disorder was the most common anxiety disorder and was associated with poor quality of life. PTSD was most commonly diagnosed between 6 and 12 months post-injury. Extended periods of PTA, cognitive dysfunction and hospitalisation following TBI may postpone symptom development rather than reduce the risk, with subsyndromal symptoms frequently preceding the development of full PTSD. This provides a potential time-window for early identification and treatment. Rehabilitation clinicians should be aware that patients might develop clinically significant trauma symptoms despite protracted post-traumatic amnesia. There was high comorbidity between PTSD, anxiety, and depression as well.

The cross-cultural study demonstrated the strong influence of cultural background on outcome following TBI over and above injury severity and other demographic factors. As a group, individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds reported less independence in daily activities, were more emotionally distressed, showed a heightened awareness of injury-related changes and less problem-focused coping than individuals from English-speaking backgrounds. They tended to believe that more external factors such as Chinese medicine, praying or having family take care of them would help their recovery. They were less likely to believe that their own behaviour could help their recovery. They were more distressed about role changes. However, there were marked differences across geocultural regions, and differences in the demographic characteristics of these subgroups (e.g., age, education) also appear to have been influential.

Changes in sexuality following traumatic brain injury

  • Individuals with TBI tended to score lower than their partners on the measure of sexual functioning
  • Approximately one third of the TBI group scored below the 2nd percentile for orgasm, as well as for sexual arousal, sex drive, and overall sexual function
  • Participants with TBI were more likely to have lower interest in sex compared to their partners, which included both men and
  • The findings suggest that a significant proportion of individuals with TBI have organically based changes in sexual function as a consequence of
  • These impact on their sexuality and that of their

There may also be relationship issues that contribute to a decline in sexual functioning, including cognitive and behavioural changes as well as other stressors.

The authors have highlighted the presence of a good recovery group as well as groups of individuals who show poorer outcomes despite having similar injury severity. These are associated with greater emotional distress, low economic and family support, low resilience and greater service utilisation. This group also incurs greater costs. They also identified a group of individuals who were potentially affected by reduced self-awareness of injury-related changes, leading to under-reporting of problems and conversely by emotional distress potentially leading to some over-reporting of symptoms. Their findings further highlighted the factors other than injury severity that contribute to longer-term outcomes. These include the personal strengths of the individual, including independence and self-esteem and resilience, as well as economic and family supports, their level of emotional distress and motivation to recover. Having identified these key measures and profiles in patients assessed 6 months-10 years post-injury the authors aim to see if these measures are predictive in the early stages after injury. If it is possible to identify these groups early they may be able to develop and tailor appropriate treatments to address issues relevant to each profile with the ultimate aim of improving outcomes.

Another flank attack!

August 16, 2016

The Victorian ombudsman has taken it upon herself to have an enquiry into the use of Independent medical examiners by WorkCover agents. We have had significant concerns about potential outcomes. In particular one of our members has been targeted by the ombudsman with the possibility of a recommendation that he no longer see WorkCover claimants. In an interesting denial of natural justice he has had no opportunity so far to respond to allegations made by a disgruntled claimant. In general however the focus of the investigation is on the agents rather than on Independent medical examiners. Nevertheless the Victorian Branch of the faculty of forensic psychiatry thought it would be useful to make a submission to the Ombudsman explaining our obligations including the College code of ethics, guidelines for medicolegal examinations, the WorkCover handbook for medicolegal assessment and legal requirements of expert witnesses. You can see a copy of the submission here

American Board of Independent Medical Examiners AMA 5 Training in Melbourne- Who cares

May 26, 2016

I was astonished to receive an invitation from eReports to attend a weekend workshop in Melbourne conducted by Prof Mohammed Ranavaya, president of the American Board of Independent Medical Examiners. The training will be on the transition from AMA 4 to AMA 5.


As far as i’m aware there are no plans In Victoria to change from AMA 4 to AMA 5 and furthermore I notice that the section with regard to psychiatric impairment rating is from 345 to 4:30 PM on 23 July, 2016, the Saturday of the week end of the course and last for 45 minutes. Considering that there is virtually no difference between AMA 4 and AMA 5 with regard to chapter 13 what is there to be said? Furthermore no jurisdictions in Australia, apart from in the Northern Territory, use chapter 13. In Victoria and South Australia the GEPIC is used and in other states the PIRS.


The cost, from what I could work out is US $595 for the Saturday, the two workshops on Sunday total US$750 and the fee for the examination from 5:30 PM to 9 PM is $995 and for the non-physical examination from 530 to 7 PM is $350. You we please today that if you sign up for everything you receive a $100 discount.


The problem of course is that AMA5has been used widely for years apart from in Victoria where no changes are planned to move to AMA 5. I have difficulty understanding why anybody would bother.

RANZCP CPD – A major concern

May 3, 2016

Philip Morris has written a trenchant criticism of the new CPD program on the College Discussion site.

He write – Seems like regarding the College CPD program we are back to where we started from in 2002 when we fought and won a fight against the College making a (then) coercive CPD program compulsory.  The subsequent review liberalized the program and made it psychiatrist needs relevant rather than a coercive instrument.  

I now see that the College will be making its CPD program compulsory from 2017.  But of concern the program to be released at the end of the month will be making parts of it mandatory (beyond the current Peer Review Group component).  

There is a new compulsory section called Practice Development and Review with a five-hour mandatory minimum time allocation.  Things that must be done here include a practice audit (NZ style – as NZ Fellows have to do an annual mandatory practice audit as demanded by the NZ Medical Council, not the College), a ‘360 degree’ review survey (private practitioners will have to pay for an outside agency to do this for them at $200-300 a pop!), structured quality improvement, risk management projects, root cause analyses, online quality improvement, and research projects.  

Nearly all of these activities are ones done in public sector settings and where the participating psychiatrist will be paid by government salary to do the activity – very different to the compliance costs put on the shoulders of private psychiatrists.  

I am told by the College CPD staff the introduction of this section was in part to help our NZ colleagues overcome confusion about the practice audit requirements of their NZ Medical Council – if the College mandates a practice audit for all Australasian Fellows then NZ Fellows will not be confused by competing demands for CPD from their Medical Council and the College.  But this is no justification for making an onerous CPD component mandatory for Australian Fellows.  

I have enquired of the College CPD staff about the rationale behind these changes and what evidence there is to justify making one form of CPD mandatory over another form – no evidence base or explanation has been provided other than ‘it is a good thing for doctors to do’.  

The College has not asked the membership to comment on the new CPD program – it will be published as a ‘finished work’.  I am not against change in the CPD program but believe any compulsory change to the program must be justified by robust evidence of benefit to psychiatrist’s knowledge and skills or patient welfare before making sections mandatory in a now compulsory program.  

There was no detail on the College website about the new program so I talked to the College staff in the CPD office – Shudipta Saha and Ben Patterson (Manager).  That is where I found out the coercive nature of the changes, that they are largely of relevance to public sector psychiatry practice, and that there was no evidence base offered to support these changes showing how this form of compulsory CPD makes any change to physician knowledge and skills or patient outcomes better than other types of CPD.  An evidence base might be available but it has not been provided.  Nor has a justification been offered as to why the Practice Development and Review component of CPD now needs to be compulsory – previously it was optional.

My position (and one I stood by as far as I could when I was chair of the College CPD committee in the mid 2000s) is that any compulsory component of CPD should have a robust evidence base showing the advantage of the compulsory CPD activity over other CPD activities and that any introduction should be done in a consultative and collaborative way with the College membership, not as an imposition from above.

Unfortunately, this seems to be what has happened with this CDP change.  I was referred to the College Psych-e bulletin newsletters of the past year by the College CPD staff as evidence that the membership was notified of the changes.  

When I looked through these Psych-e bulletins the only reference to specifics of the now-to-be compulsory Practice Development and Review section was in the August 2015 Psych-e bulletin as follows “To further enhance the quality improvement of practices, the College is considering the inclusion of optional activity in multi-source feedback as an aspect of the CPD Program.  This exercise is widely used by many specialist medical colleges both nationally and internationally as it provides a valid and reliable assessment of one’s management and behaviour, which in turn leads to reflection, goal setting and further skill development.”  This is reference to the ‘360 degree review’ technique embedded in the Practice Development and Review section.  Note that in August the inclusion of this section is optional.  And there is no information provided to support the assertion that the multi-source feedback is valid and reliable.  

By the November Psych-e bulletin we are informed that the CPD program will now be compulsory from 2017 as follows “RANZCP makes Continuing Professional Development Program compulsory for all Fellows from 2017”.  

And by in the January 2016 Psych-e bulletin we are told that the now compulsory CPD program will have “a Practice Development, Quality Improvement and Review activity” with “required components of 5 hours of practice review / quality improvement activities”.  

So no where following the mention of an optional multi-source feedback activity in August 2015 is there any discussion about the details of the proposed compulsory five hours of Practice Development and Review section and certainly no attempt to consult the College membership more broadly about theses changes or to offer any evidence base to support these changes.  

In my view this is a very poor way to introduce a compulsory change that has implications for the medical registration of fellows.  I wonder if this reflects a ‘corporatist’ and paternalistic attitude of the College to its members – we are to be ‘managed’ rather than consulted about change – I hope I am wrong. 

I was told by the College CPD staff I was the only one so far to voice any concerns about the changes.  I encourage any who have similar concerns to me about these imposed changes to CPD to you make formal and written representations to the College CPD staff (email Shudipta Saha at and to your College state and territory and NZ representatives. 

Off-Label Ketamine Prescribing: US Psychiatrists Troubled – happening here too!

April 30, 2016


A chain of clinics opened in Australia recently fronted by an academic physiologist with no medical or psychiatric training.  They advertised widely.  I searched the web-site, no indication what treatment they were using for depression – turned out to be ketamine! Numerous breaches of regulation lead to their closure.  Looks like the same problem is rampant in the USA, see this article.

“How to eliminate workplace psychosocial hazards” according to the ILO – another blinding glimpse of the obvious

April 29, 2016


To mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the International Labour Organisation has released a major report on the impact of workplace stress and how to tackle it.  The document is replete with statements I found astonishing, eg

In various countries national legislation provides for the protection
of mental health and wellbeing of specific categories of workers.
For instance, a number of countries have specific requirements
for young workers, promoting their mental or moral integrity and
development (e.g. Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina
Faso, Central African Republic, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti,
Jordan, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Portugal,
Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Uruguay), as
well as for protecting pregnant workers from mental fatigue and
job strain (e.g. Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Italy,
Luxembourg, Norway, and Romania).
Do the authors seriously expect us to believe that some of these countries; Angola, Botswana, , Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Haiti, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkmenistan actually enact specific requirements for young workers, promoting their mental or moral integrity and development?

In Workplace Stress: A collective challenge, ILO researchers review the latest studies on the prevalence of workplace stress and its impact on workers’ mental health and wellbeing.

A 2014 Australian stress and wellbeing survey, they say, found nearly half of participants reported work demands as “barriers to maintaining a healthy lifestyle”, while an earlier study found seven in 10 Australians said stress was affecting their physical health.

“Global competitive processes have transformed work organisation, working relations and employment patterns, contributing to the increase of work-related stress and its associated disorders,” ILO senior occupational health specialist Valentina Forastieri says.

According to the report, studies show psychosocial risks are linked to “health-related behavioural risk, including heavy alcohol consumption, overweight, less frequent exercise, increased cigarette smoking, and sleep disorders”.

Within the workplace, mental health disorders associated with psychosocial risk causes “increased absenteeism and presenteeism, disturbed labour relations, reduced motivation of staff, decreased satisfaction and creativity, increased staff turnover, internal transfers and retraining, and generally a poorer public image”, it says.

Exposure to workplace stress is also associated with cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders, while long-term exposure to emotionally demanding work situations can lead to burnout and depression.

The report identifies 10 types of psychosocial hazards divided into two groups:

  1. Content of work:
    • Work environment and equipment – “problems regarding the reliability, availability, suitability and maintenance or repair of both equipment and facilities”, and physical hazards;
    • Job content – poor task design, repetitious and meaningless work, and job uncertainty;
    • Workload – excessive workloads, time pressure and lack of control; and
    • Work schedule – fixed schedules, long or unsocial hours, and shift work or unpredictable hours that upset biological circadian rhythms and affect workers’ sleep quality.
  2. Context of work:
    • Organisational culture and function – “poor communication, low levels of support for problem-solving and personal development, lack of definition of organisational objectives”;
    • Role in organisation – ambiguity or conflict in a worker’s role;
    • Career development – career stagnation and uncertainty, under-promotion and job insecurity during mergers and acquisitions, retrenchment and budget cutbacks;
    • Decision latitude – low participation in decision-making;
    • Interpersonal work relationships – poor social relationships that increase “adverse effects of exposure to other psychosocial hazards”; and
    • Home-work interface.

The ILO report recommends seven measures to prevent work-related stress:

  1. Control – ensure workplaces are adequately staffed and let workers have a say on how their work is carried out;
  2. Workload – ensure work hours are reasonable, assign reasonable deadlines and regularly assess time requirements for tasks;
  3. Social support – provide a workplace where “supervisory staff take responsibility for other workers and there is an appropriate level of contact” to build supportive relationships between the two groups. Maintain a workplace free of “physical and psychological violence” and “reinforce motivation by emphasising the positive and useful aspects of the work”;
  4. Matching the job and the worker – ensure proper utilisation of a worker’s skills by matching their jobs to their physical and psychological abilities, and assign tasks “according to experience and competence”;
  5. Training and education – provide information and training on psychosocial risks and stress management;
  6. Transparency and fairness – be clear in assigning tasks and roles to avoid conflict and ambiguity and provide fair pay. Ensure procedures for dealing with complaints are transparent and fair; and
  7. Physical working environment – provide a healthy workspace for employees, taking into account appropriate lighting, air quality, noise levels and ergonomics. Remove all “hazardous agents”.

“Awareness on these issues is growing,” Forastieri says.

“In most countries policymakers and social partners have become involved in concrete interventions to tackle psychosocial hazards, which are the causes of work-related stress,” she says.

“A comprehensive OSH management system would ensure improved preventive practices and incorporation of health promotion measures.

“This should include psychosocial risks in risk assessment and management measures with a view to effectively managing their impact in the same way as with other OSH risks in the workplace.”


It had to happen – workers advice on increasing impairment score

April 26, 2016

I came across some advice to claimants about how to increase their psychiatric impairment rating. It had to happen. I thought you might be interested. Of course is much easier in New South Wales where people can access ePIRS and test out different scenarios to see what produces the best score.