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Code of Conduct

RANZCO’s Professional Code of Conduct (‘the Code’/PCOC) provides guidelines for the professional behaviour expected of Fellows and members. The Code is built on the College Oath, and various laws and codes from both Australian and New Zealand regulators.

In June 2022, the Code was revised and details of why and how this occurred, as well as the major revisions, is below. Also below is a listing of resources and jurisdictions that support best practice standards. These should be referenced in combination with the Professional Code of Conduct.

The Professional Code of Conduct is not a legal contract between RANZCO and its Members. Other regulatory bodies can and do impose legal and/or compliance requirements on members of the medical profession. If a Member is suspected of committing a serious breach of the Code, a complaint can be made against them through the College Complaints Process.

Why has it been reviewed?

The RANZCO Strategic Plan called for a review of the Code of Conduct to ensure alignment with modern day practice. It was last reviewed in 2017.

What informed the revision?

The review process has taken place over a year and incorporates:

  • The real-life cases and discussions that have been brought to the Professional Conduct Committee.
  • The increasingly active role the regulators are taking in investigating and assessing cases around informed consent, interactions with industry, patient/practitioner relationships and advertising, etc.
  • The reality of the reach and powers of the College regarding its role as a membership organisation. The College is not empowered to investigate accusations in the same manner as a regulator or the police. In seeking to investigate ‘cases’ the College exposes itself to legal risk. Several other Colleges have gone down this route and then quickly wound back the scope of their Codes, investigations and Committee powers.
What has been revised?

The PCOC continues to guide members to best possible patient and community care. The nature and tone of the PCOC has been revised to ensure it can be applied by RANZCO’s Professional Conduct Committee and Board in a pragmatic and appropriate manner.

The major revisions are:

Refined scope

The Code of Conduct has been renamed the Professional Code of Conduct, or PCOC. The inclusion of Professional means the Code relates to the professional lives of members. The PCOC does not try and insert itself into a members’ private life. In influencing professional behaviours, the PCOC does implicitly influence private behaviour such that it should not adversely impact on a members’ professionalism.

There is an expectation that members (trainees, practice managers, orthoptists, etc.) retain the right to a private life and private views, which can exist in public. RANZCO members wear many hats, but it is not reasonable to assume they are always wearing a “RANZCO” hat. It should be noted that all RANZCO members on Committees must ensure they clarify if their publicly expressed views and statements reflect the views of the College or not.

Refined basis

The expectations outlined in the PCOC are grounded in existing published guidelines from other jurisdictions rather than the prevailing public mood, which was referenced in the previous iteration of the Code of Conduct. The concept of a public mood is highly subjective and almost impossible to define. Without the legal right to investigate a complaint, and using a subjective measure, the ability of the Code of Conduct Committee to progress a complaint was limited.

PCOC is a summary of the standards of behaviour published by the regulators and the law. As such, the PCOC encompasses standards that can, and are, upheld by other jurisdictions. This means complainants can be directed to a jurisdiction that is fully empowered to investigate their complaint.

Refined approach

The PCOC is now a set of guidelines rather than standards. The revision is nuanced and subtle. Standards by their nature need to be enforced. The College’ ability to uphold standards when it lacks powers of investigation are limited. It is exceedingly difficult for the Professional Conduct Committee to meet the requirements of natural justice and procedural fairness for both complainant and respondent when investigating alleged breaches of the Code when they have no investigative powers.

Guidelines are an effective way to regulate behaviour even though they are not enforceable. The call to develop, share and review the RANZCO Triage Guidelines for COVID demonstrate how guidelines can effectively guide and regulate behaviour. In addition, the existence of guidelines enables the College to publicise a norm of expected behaviour that the general public, patients and others can reasonably expect of members. This in turn places pressure on members to meet these norms, lest they be seen as outliers.

Revised content

Several standards from Section “The Standard of Training and Research” have been removed as these directly relate to the interactions of trainees and trainers/supervisors. The Committee holds the view that such detailed directives fit within the documentation attached to the VTP. These paragraphs will be covered in VTP governance documents, trainee induction and supervisor education material.

As noted previously, the ability of the Professional Conduct Committee to investigate alleged breaches is limited. The College’s established pathways for dealing with issues arising in training are clearly established, enforceable, defensible and nuanced. Namely, there are established remediation and progression pathways.

So, how are alleged breaches of the PCOC now managed?

Complaints against Members who are alleged to have breached the PCOC can still be lodged with the College and will be investigated by the Professional Conduct Committee. A flow chart has been created to show the typical pathway of a complaint.

Are the revisions final?

These revisions are not final. The PCOC is a living document that will undergo changes and updates over the years based on the expectations of members, the public, the regulators and according to RANZCO’s scope to investigate and act on claims of wrong-doing or misunderstanding.

Who has been involved?

The Professional Conduct Committee have led the review. The Committee receive and review complaints that come to the College and assess these against the Code. Based on their experience in managing complaints and knowledge of the other jurisdictions, recommendations for revision were made. Feedback from complainants and respondents also informed the revisions.

The Governance Committee were involved in checking and amending proposed revisions based on a wider understanding of the governance structures of the College.

The RANZCO Board completed a final review of the PCOC and asked the RANZCO Council to endorse the revisions. In June 2022, the Council endorsed the revisions and the RANZCO Board have approved them.

The PCOC will necessarily undergo continuous review and is a living document.

Why does this matter to me?

Being familiar with the PCOC is important as the document informs the public and government about the high standards of care they should reasonably expect from you as a RANZCO Fellow and member.

The PCOC is helpful in directing you to relevant legal and compliance requirements. If you do witness behaviour that you feel contravenes the PCOC, the document and associated complaints pathways gives you some certainty about where to direct your concerns and how these will be managed.

Like the College Oath, the PCOC is a key document to remind all members about why they chose a career that aims to improve the lives of the community.

Last updated: July 12, 2022

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