Doctors’ health bodies will appeal to the profession to help fund a national hotline for colleagues troubled by medicolegal disputes, drug and alcohol issues and other health problems.

The Australian Doctors’ Health Network, formed by the different state doctors’ health advisory services, will approach the Medical Board of Australia to consider asking doctors to make a contribution in addition to their annual registration fee to fund the program.

Dr Jill Gordon, president of the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service (NSW) said the group hoped to set up a 24/7 hotline run by volunteer doctors and will be discussing the proposal at the Network’s next meeting on August 13.

“With the national registration of health professionals now, we thought it was probably a really good idea to look at the potential to have something like a national helpline that would then be redirected to [organisations] in the respective states,” she said.

Medical Board of Australia chair Dr Joanna Flynn said the Board would consider the option along with others in its bid to find sensible, effective and fair ways to address doctors’ health issues.

The magnitude of the issue has been highlighted in a study reported in the MJA today, which found that among 3000 Australian specialists, GPs and trainees, the main work-related factor linked to psychiatric illness was facing a current medicolegal matter.

The study found two in every three doctors had faced such a matter and 14% were currently embroiled in one.

Dr Gordon said despite support programs being in place for doctors facing litigation, a deep sense of shame, guilt and regret over bad outcomes, whether the doctor was at fault or not, stood in the way of help seeking.

“We know what a crippling effect it can have, and [it] has actually driven people out of the medical workforce, which I think is tragic after people have trained for all those years,” she said.

Di Preen, senior manager of the risk advisory service for Avant, the largest medical indemnity insurer in Australia, said about 1700 clients faced a medicolegal claim each year. Around 60% of cases involve specialists.

MJA 2010; 193:161-166.
Posted 2 August, 2010


Tell us what you think:

Would you be prepared to contribute money to fund a 24 hour hotline for troubled doctors?

9 thoughts on “Plan for national hotline to help troubled doctors as medicolegal cases take their toll

  1. Makadabr says:

    The MDO’s are there to protect your finances, not your reputation. That is their primary motivation and purpose. I agree that the profession itself should be foremost in the goal of supporting our peers in respect to reputation and psychological welfare.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a great idea, but must be taken in context of existing successful programs within states and organisations. How will the hotline manage the issue of mandatory reporting?

  3. khalifa says:

    Iam from lybia and I think that sharing problems with MDA is correct

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yes I would be prepared to contribute money to support this cause. I think it should be available to medical students as well, for free while they are studying. The wellbeing of our colleagues reflects on all of us.

  5. one of many says:

    The medical board offers no help to most in the profession despite regularly escalating fees. They should fund the scheme from our board taxes! Also a big stress often comes from the MDA who will not defend the reputation of doctors who have done nothing wrong because “it is cheaper to settle and avoid going to court” – a cynic would say lawyers on both sides get well paid that way. The stress will reduce when no fault compensation and a separate clinical disciplining of truly negligent doctors becomes available!

  6. Lena Ly says:

    I agree with Bernie. There are already state specific services available, and there is huge potential for duplication and confusion. This website outlines it clearly:

    In Victoria, I would contact VDHP.

  7. J.C. says:

    As a profession we tend to think ourselves invincible for many reasons – it is how society, the profession, the government and we as individuals view ourselves. For this reason, we are very hard to help, because of the many barriers involved – pride, shame, belief that we are not able to be helped, fear that we will overburden our colleagues, the list goes on. I think we need to start very early and encourage medical students to learn to seek help, but also instil in their teachers (who are often the worst culprits as far as their sense of invincibility) to lead by example, and not put unrealistic (emotional and physical) demands on our new graduates from the start. I also think that we need some very accurate data about mental health in the medical profession, and suicide rates. As a doctor who was married to a doctor who died as a result of a serious mental health issue, triggered by fear of percieved medicolegal issues I speak from close personal experience.

  8. Dr Harry Hemley, AMA Victoria President says:

    AMA Victoria’s Peer Support Service currently offers Victorian doctors anonymous, confidential telephone counselling for the cost of a local call. The service is available between 8am and 11pm every day by calling 1300 853 338. For more details visit

  9. Bernie Tuch says:

    Having been one of those “troubled doctors” I agree that access to professional advice is most important, to learn coping strategies. However, such advice is readily available, through the Medical Defence Association (MDA) of which all doctors should be members. In my case, the case manager of the relevant MDA offered the service, and I accepted the support….with good effect.
    If a separate support facility was to be established, how to avoid a duplication of services would need to be clearly spelled out.

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