Unfortunately, the answer to this question is complex according to Avant Mutual – the leading provider of medical indemnity insurance’s website.
To help you navigate this issue and minimise the chances of running into a legal problem, they suggest you consider the following issues before you refuse entry to an unvaccinated patient:
Step 1: Check the public health directions in your state and territory
State and territory public health directions do not currently prevent a person from entering a medical practice if the person is not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Step 2: Obligation to treat a patient
A medical practice does not generally have to allow a person to enter the practice unless it’s an emergency.
Step 3: Consider whether the decision not to treat the patient may be discriminatory
You can refuse to allow an unvaccinated patient to enter your practice except when the patient is not vaccinated for a reason such as:
- the patient’s medical condition
- the patient’s age (for example, because the TGA has not approved vaccination for their age group)
- the patient’s religious beliefs.
It can be lawful to discriminate if it is necessary to ensure the health and safety of people in the practice.
However, the practice should first consider whether there is another way to provide a service to the patient other than through entry to the practice (for example, via telehealth).
Step 4: Consider work health and safety issues
Under work health and safety laws, practices must ensure the health and safety of their workers, patients and others at the workplace.
Your practice should undertake a risk assessment in consultation with practice staff to determine whether patient vaccination against COVID-19 is necessary to ensure health and safety in the workplace.
Step 5: Other factors
Your practice may wish to consider other factors before deciding to refuse treatment to an unvaccinated patient:
- the reason the patient is not vaccinated (e.g. the patient intends to be vaccinated but has had difficulties accessing vaccination)
- whether the patient is a new patient or existing patient
- if a doctor elects to terminate the doctor-patient relationship or deny treatment to a patient because the patient is not vaccinated, the patient may make a complaint
- the capacity of the patient to obtain treatment elsewhere (for example, denying treatment at a GP practice versus a specialist practice where there are a limited number of specialists in that area)
- the patient’s need for continuity of care (having regard to factors such as the urgency of care, the value of an ongoing treating relationship etc)
- a doctor’s right to conscientiously object to treating patients who are not vaccinated.
For more information visit https://www.avant.org.au/covid-19/vaccination-faqs/
Of course, doctors are expected to comply with the code of conduct, which sets out the expectations of registered medical practitioners in Australia.