I participated in the ‘Manning Street’ Project in 2011 and 2012. Both projects were conducted at Caxton Legal Centre. We worked in small research groups working at an average of 4 hours a week over a period of one semester at the centre to research and write our research projects.
First Project: Oral Health & Human Rights
The first project I participated in focused on the lack of access to oral healthcare among the disadvantaged communities in Australia, with a particular emphasis on the right to dental healthcare. The project was supervised by Dr Tamara Walsh in groups of two. Dr Tamara Walsh made our research topic very interesting and was eager to discuss anything we were unclear about.
My task centred largely on providing legal arguments for which oral health issues ought to be focused upon in the country. I focused my research on various legal aspects, one of which was in the context of human rights’ entitlement to healthcare as enunciated in various international conventions, such as, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We researched whether the right to healthcare articulated in the international conventions included the right to dental healthcare, and we concluded in the affirmative. We concluded that such recognition of the right to healthcare provides strong legal arguments for the government to invest in dental care. The second aspect we focused upon was in the context of bioethical principles, in particular, the principle of justice. This principle means that all patients ought to be treated without prejudice regardless of race, status or gender. However, we found that the low standard of dental health in Australia is largely associated with the lack of accessibility to dental care among the disadvantaged communities, thus, provides an argument which supports the improvement of public dental health services.
Second Project: Doctors & Drugs
The second project required a team of four to investigate the prevalence of ‘doctor-shopping’ in Australia, a practice of patients visiting multiple doctors in a short time frame to deceive them and obtain restricted prescription drugs. The research focused on the conduct of medical practitioners, as opposed to patient liability or criminal misconduct regarding the misuse of prescription drugs. Our research paper discusses the reasons for doctor-shopping, strengths and weaknesses of the current regulatory regime and bodies (e.g. Australian Medical Association and Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) in identifying doctor-shoppers, as well as prosecuting medical practitioners who have allowed patients to misuse medications. The paper also provides some recommendations on how the current regulatory framework could be improved to minimise doctor-shopping. Ms Monica Taylor, our supervisor, was very helpful and supportive. She gave us incredible insights into the content and scope of our research topic, as well as suggestions on the structure and content of our research paper.
My area of research in the project centred on the medio-legal and regulatory frameworks which attempted to address the prevalance of doctor-shopping. In particular, I researched the standards of care owed by medical practitioners to patients imposed by common law and equity, focusing on contractual, fiduciary and tortious duties. The current standards require doctors to exercise ‘reasonable skill and care,’ in the treatment and provision of drugs prescriptions. As a team, we considered the possibility and effectiveness of the law to increase the standard of care imposed on medical practitioners (from a duty to exercise ‘reasonable skill and care’ to a duty to act in the patient’s best interest) as a mechanism to minimise doctor-shopping. However, we concluded that imposing a duty on medical practitioners to act in the best interest of patients may not be plausible as such standard is inconsistent with the existing contractual and/or tortious duty upon doctors to exercise ‘reasonable skill and care’ in the prescription of medications and the content of ‘best interest’ has been criticised for its inherent uncertainties.
There was no strict separation of workload while working on both projects. We helped each other out while working on the projects. Most of the time, the discussion among ourselves and our supervisor helped clear our doubts and improve our understanding on the subject. The staff at Caxton Legal Centre were extremely helpful and were always willing to assist us with our projects.
Throughout my involvement in the projects, I enjoyed wide-ranging opportunities, including interviewing doctor-shoppers, medical experts and legal academics. These experiences have taught me to question the effectiveness of laws in achieving their initial objectives and to think about how the law/government policies could be improved within the current regulatory scheme. Personally, both of these projects piqued and reinforced my interest in pursuing a career in healthcare law and enabled me to gain legal experience about social justice and law reform issues.
If you are interested in the Manning St Project find more information at: