Crackdown On Dodgy 'Fake' Doctors In Australia

Fake medical practitioners will cop big fines and potential imprisonment as new regulatory powers come into force.

Any person prosecuted for pretending to be a registered health practitioner can now be hit with a three-year jail term and a $60,000 fine, while companies could be fined up to $120,000.

The tough new laws apply to any individual who falsely calls themselves a medical practitioner, psychologist, dentist, pharmacist, chiropractor, podiatrist or optometrist, among other protected titles, without the proper qualifications.

It comes as Australia deals with a spate of people pretending to be doctors, with more than 50 prosecutions under the national law in the last five years.

It's hoped the near-nationwide crackdown -- it excludes Western Australia -- will curb deceptive practices putting patients and consumers at risk.

Photo: Getty.

Amendments to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law were initially passed by the Queensland state parliament in February, and have now been broadened.

‘All health ministers recognise that penalties need to be tougher for serious cases," Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) CEO Martin Fletcher said.

"When someone pretends to be a registered health practitioner, they pose a significant risk to the public".

The changes come in the wake of several high profile cases around Australia.

Raffaele di Paolo managed to fool medical professionals and patients for more than a decade.

Raffaele di Paolo leaves the Melbourne Magistrates Court in 2016. Photo: AAP

The fake gynaecologist, 62, who presented himself as a fertility specialist had no tertiary qualifications and had only briefly attended university in Melbourne and Rome -- yet managed to get his hands on a forged medical degree.

During his time as a fake specialist, di Paolo fleeced hundreds of thousands of dollars from 30 victims.

He was investigated by the Health Services Commissioner in 2011. AHPRA launched its investigation in 2014 before the matter was referred to Victoria Police the following year.

READ MORE: Fake Gynecologist Used 'Brutal' Procedure On Patients

AHPRA successfully prosecuted the fake doctor last year, as he pleaded guilty to five counts of falsely claiming he was a health practitioner between January 2014 and November 2014.

At the same time, the Department of Public Prosecutions convicted him of dozens of offences, including obtaining property by deception, sexual penetration by fraud and common assault.

He was jailed for nine years, six months and will also be a registered sex offender for life.

READ MORE: Fake Gynecologist Used 'Brutal' Procedure On Patients

Photo: Getty

Another high profile case involved the prosecution of Shyam Acharya who falsely claimed to be U.K. based doctor Sarang Chitale.

He used the identity to obtain Australian citizenship and work in four hospitals across NSW for more than a decade.

AHPRA was alerted to the dodgy registration by the General Medical Council in the U.K. in 2016, and laid charges four months later.

He was fined $30,000 plus legal costs to AHPRA amounting to $22,000. A criminal conviction was also recorded.

"We have successfully completed more than 50 prosecutions for offences under the National Law since 2014," Fletcher said.

“It's fair to stay that there is a pretty steady stream of complaints coming to us, it’s more common than first thought."

"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".

Shyam Acharya's passport allegedly posing as Sarang Chitale.

It's a warning that has been welcomed by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

"The public places a great amount of trust in nurses and the work they do," ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said.

"Anyone who falsely claims to be a nurse betrays this trust and must face the consequences. These extended offence provisions are important in further protecting registered professions such as nursing and as another way to ensure patient safety."

The reforms are part of a broader set of amendments being passed, with more changes expected to be introduced in 2020.

"The remaining amendments, which are expected to commence early next year, will make changes to the mandatory reporting requirements under the National Law to make it easier for health practitioners to seek treatment for their health issues," a Queensland Health spokesperson told 10 daily.

The advice for anyone concerned about the legitimacy of their health professional is urged to check the online register or contact AHPRA on 1300 419 495.