COVID-19 frequently asked questions

Updated 7 April 2020

We are being asked a range of questions about how the Boards would respond to requests for changes to the way that we register individuals in the context of managing the health sector impacts of COVID-19.

As an overriding principle, the Boards are prepared to be flexible in their approach although safety remains our first priority for National Boards and Ahpra. In this context, we are considering how our regulatory requirements can adapt to emergency health service needs and support health service delivery while continuing to protect the public.

We are working to answer your questions as soon as possible and will be regularly updating the information below. If your query is not answered under one of the question categories below, please email us on COVID19@ahpra.gov.au.

www.health.gov.au is the official site for the latest information on the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Issues outside Ahpra and National Boards’ role

Published 1 April 2020

We are receiving many questions about aspects of COVID-19 outside of our role of protecting the public by regulating individual registered health practitioners. We understand that people are looking for trusted sources of information and we want to help you get to the best place to resolve your question or concern.

We strongly recommend that you download the Australian Department of Health’s recently launched app, Coronavirus Australia. This app will help you to stay up to date with the latest official information and advice, and help you find relevant contact information.

The app is available for free through the App Store for Apple devices and Google Play for Android devices. Please note the following for compatibility requirements:

  • Apple – requires iOS 12.0 or later and is compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
  • Android – requires Android 6.0 and up.

If you are unable to use the app, please visit the Australian Government Department of Health webpage Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert, to gain access to a collection of resources for individuals and health service providers.

Areas not for Ahpra and National Boards

  • Availability and access to personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • Please check government advice (links above), with your employer, or primary health network.
  • Volunteering
    • Individual health services have their own arrangements for volunteers. Please check the health service website or respond to expressions of interest.
  • Clinical issues relating to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19
  • Decisions about emergency measures including restrictions or required closure of health services and clinics (check government advice above)
  • Decisions about which registered professions are considered ‘priority’ COVID-19 workforce
    • Initial priorities for the COVID-19 workforce are medical practitioners, nurses and midwives, paramedics, pharmacists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners, especially in the Northern Territory. We also working on prioritising physiotherapists, psychologists and medical radiation practitioners, especially radiographers.
  • Technical support for health practitioners using telehealth for patient consult.
    • Unfortunately, we cannot provide technical advice about telehealth platforms. Most platforms, such as Zoom and GotoWebinar, have online FAQs and help desks. The Commonwealth Department of Health has also published some information.
 

Compliance with conditions and undertakings

Published 27 March 2020

Yes, while there are recommendations or orders in place by the relevant health department to minimise or avoid interpersonal contact. Once the Board has approved the one-on-one education to be done, it may be conducted via videoconference with the agreement of the health practitioner’s Board-approved educator.

No, online education will usually not be an appropriate education medium when a Board has required the learning to be conducted one-on-one. One-on-one education is a fully interactive learning environment which provides continuous feedback to both the leaner and the educator. The educator can subsequently provide qualitative and quantitative feedback to the Board to inform it about any ongoing risk to be mitigated

We will update all practitioners subject to urine drug screening requirements about how they can check if an Ahpra-approved collection centre also does COVID-19 testing. This will enable practitioners who are concerned about exposure to attend another approved collection centre.

If a practitioner is currently required to attend for urine drug screening as a result of restrictions (conditions or undertakings) on their registration and they are required to self-isolate as a result of overseas travel or close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, they may be eligible to apply for leave from urine drug screening requirements for the period of self-isolation. To apply they must provide:

  • confirmation that they are self-isolating as a result of overseas travel, close contact with a confirmed case or that they have tested positive to COVID-19, whichever is relevant
  • the dates for the period of self-isolation
  • confirmation that they will not practise their health profession while isolated, and
  • evidence that they have advised their employer (or equivalent) confirming the period of isolation and the dates they will not be practising.

Should leave be approved, on return to practice, the practitioner will also be required to provided evidence that they did not practise during the period of isolation (for example, rosters or leave statements).

 

Continuing professional development (CPD)

Published 6 April 2020

The Boards and Ahpra understand that practitioners may have difficulty meeting CPD requirements this year as a result of withdrawn/denied leave requests, conference cancellations and the re-prioritisation necessary to meet workforce needs during the COVID-19 emergency response. Boards are considering these factors against their individual annual regulatory requirement for practitioners to complete CPD. Boards will publish more information once available.

 

Interns

Published 3 April 2020

The Medical Board of Australia (the Board) will waive the usual rotation requirements for interns in 2020.

The Board will accept the following supervised clinical experience for general registration:

  • at least 40 weeks full-time equivalent service (a reduction of seven weeks to allow for isolation/sick leave etc.)
  • the clinical experience can take place in accredited and non-accredited positions
  • the requirement for the usual rotations of medicine, surgery and emergency medical care are waived. The Board will accept clinical experience in any supervised rotations.

Health services that employ interns must continue to supervise them and provide them, as much as possible, with meaningful educational clinical experiences and teaching, as well as support during what will be a challenging and difficult time.

The Board recognises that much education is likely to be ‘on the job’ and that this pandemic will expose interns to unique clinical experiences.

For the purpose of granting general registration at the end of the intern year, the Board will accept a report from the Director of Medical Services, Director of Training or another person authorised to sign off intern reports which confirms that each intern has performed satisfactorily during the intern year.

However, if the time or experience missed is more substantial, and would not provide the relevant breadth of experience or enable learning outcomes to be met, then there may be a need for the intern to complete more clinical experience once the COVID-19 pandemic is less acute.

Public safety is the first priority for National Boards and Ahpra. We recognise that registered health practitioners play a vital role in treating and containing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

As set out in the Board’s Registration standard: Supervised practice arrangements (the standard) that is approved by Health Ministers, the Board requires 1,824 hours of approved supervised practice (SP). These requirements were set in the public interest to ensure that competent pharmacists are registered to deliver services to the public.

The standard provides flexibility in the delivery of training by an approved preceptor. If challenges have emerged that impact the capacity of preceptors and employers to continue to supervise interns at their workplace, other options can be considered. Preceptors may specify other locations/arrangements in the training arrangements, such as a pharmacy department, community pharmacy, compounding facility, residential care facility, GP clinic, research unit such as a school of pharmacy, pharmaceutical industry, medication reviews etc. Preceptors and their interns should consider exploring such options, the arrangement of which may be facilitated if the current employer will continue to cover the intern’s salary at other locations. These variations will not require additional approval by the Board.

If a significant variation to the approved training arrangements is proposed e.g. an alternative arrangement that more significantly limits or precludes interaction with the public and supervising pharmacists for a lengthy period of time, this would need more careful consideration of how the intern could demonstrate all their learning outcomes and develop the relevant breadth of experience. In the COVID-19 emergency, the Board will consider how best to balance the public safety interest in interns meeting the supervised practice requirements and the health service delivery needs and will explore whether there are some standard modifications to the supervised practice arrangements that the Board could agree. However, significant limits on interaction with the public and/or supervising pharmacists may require submission of a modified training plan to Ahpra.

 

Notifications

Published 19 March 2020

Public safety is the first priority for National Boards and Ahpra. We recognise that registered health practitioners play a vital role in treating and containing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Depending on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will take into account potential impacts on notification processes and timeframes. For example, if practitioners need more time to respond, this will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

We are actively planning to minimise any impact of disruption to our operations on our processes and at this stage are not anticipating impacts on notifications processes.

 

Registration

Updated 7 April 2020

National Boards and Ahpra are aware that practitioners may have difficulty demonstrating English language proficiency with the current disruption to English language testing. We understand that this may cause some stress for applicants. We are working to identify options while English language tests are disrupted, including whether we may be able to extend the validity of test results safely. We will publish more information as soon as we can.

Test providers are regularly updating their information about test availability , so you may like to visit their websites directly:

The Boards and Ahpra are responsible for implementing a national regulatory scheme which has the core objective of protecting the public. While we are considering how our regulatory requirements can adapt to support emergency health service needs and delivery of care, patient safety remains our first priority.

We appreciate that there are individuals willing to help with the COVID-19 emergency response who are in Australia but are not yet registered. Many are contacting us, asking for exemptions to registration requirements due to common circumstances, such as English language tests not being available. We are examining such issues and will continue to publish information about changes to our regulatory requirements during the COVID-19 emergency. We urge everyone to regularly check COVID-19 updates to see how we are responding to the pandemic.

Until any further changes are announced, we can only provide general responses to individual queries asking us to modify regulatory requirements. Meanwhile, we are working as hard as we can to prioritise existing applications for registration based on our understanding of health service priorities. This includes finalising the applications of internationally qualified practitioners who are already in Australia and must have self-isolated for 14 days, depending on when they arrived.

We are making pragmatic decisions to help boost priority workforce, including establishing the pandemic response sub-register for medical practitioners, nurses, midwives and pharmacists. Inclusion on the sub-register is automatic for individuals who previously held general or specialist registration and who left the national register of practitioners or moved to non-practising registration in the past three years. More information is in the pandemic response sub-register FAQs.

National Boards and Ahpra are working with government, health services and others to support the registered health workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognise that there are also many applicants who are keen to be registered so they can contribute to the emergency response, including those who previously held registration in professions that are now on the frontline of the health service response to COVID-19.

Initial priorities for the COVID-19 workforce are medical practitioners, nurses and midwives, paramedics, pharmacists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners, especially in the Northern Territory. We are also working on prioritising physiotherapists, psychologists and medical radiation practitioners, especially radiographers. This includes finalising the applications of internationally qualified practitioners who are already in Australia and must have self-isolated for 14 days after their arrival.

We are working as hard as we can to finalise applications to support health service workforce priorities and will update individuals on the progress of applications for registration as soon as we can.

Internationally qualified practitioners who came to Australia before our borders were closed must have self-isolated for 14 days before completing presenting-in-person requirements. We have introduced an interim measure so that applicants, who are in Australia and who hold current in-principle approval of registration, can present in person at their intended place of employment to have their identity verified and to have their identity documents certified by a registered health practitioner.

This interim measure also applies to international medical graduates who have not previously been registered as a medical practitioner with limited or provisional registration under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme. Visit presenting in person outside of an Ahpra office to find out more.

 

Workforce

Updated 6 April 2020

Recently retired medical practitioners, nurses, midwives and pharmacists and those with non-practising registration who meet the criteria have been added automatically to the pandemic response sub-register. This sub-register enables practitioners from these professions who previously held general or specialist registration and who left the national register of practitioners or moved to non-practising registration in the past three years to return to practice.

Physiotherapists, psychologists and medical radiation practitioners who meet the criteria will be added to the sub-register soon. We are contacting all eligible practitioners. The sub-register will operate on an opt-out basis and there is no obligation for anyone added to the sub-register to practise or remain on it. We recognise health service needs are likely to evolve as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and we will keep working with state and territory and Commonwealth governments to support the COVID-19 emergency response. More information is in the pandemic response sub-register FAQs.

Health practitioners should stay up to date with state and territory and Commonwealth government announcements about what are essential and non-essential services. We respect a health practitioner’s right as an individual to make decisions about their own safety and wellbeing and do not require anyone to keep practising if they choose not to.

However, practitioners who continue practising should apply the community safety measures put in place by government. Refer to state and territory health authorities and the Australian Government Department of Health webpage Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert for more information.

The Medical Board of Australia (the Board) has decided that for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will streamline processes to enable IMGs within hospitals with limited and provisional registration to be redeployed more easily without a formal application to the Board.

The Board will accept a written notice (COVID-19 Notice of change in circumstances - CCOV-30) from the Director of Medical Services (DMS) or equivalent of changes to the following:

Change of supervisor in the following circumstances:

  1. The supervisor meets the requirements for supervisors including that they:
    • do not have conditions imposed on their registration or undertakings accepted as a result of health, performance or conduct issues
    • have specialist registration. If they have only general registration, they must have at least three years full-time practice and the DMS must be confident that they are skilled to provide safe supervision
    • are appropriately qualified, preferably in the same field of medicine as the position proposed for the IMG
    • are not a relative or domestic partner or employee of the IMG
    • undertake to complete the online supervisor’s module within three months.
  2. The position is the same as previously approved by the Board or is within the same hospital or health network.
  3. The same level of supervision is proposed.

Change in the position in the following circumstances:

  • Same hospital or health network.
  • Same supervisor or, if a different supervisor, meets the Board’s requirements (see above).
  • Same level of supervision proposed.
  • IMGs in the Short-term training in a medical specialty pathway can change positions, if the training in the proposed position aligns directly with the training that the specialist college approved originally.

Move from level one to level two supervision in the following circumstances:

  • The IMG has been on level one supervision for a minimum of two months.
  • The DMS is confident that the IMG has demonstrated sufficient competence to practise safely under level two supervision.

At this stage, all other changes in circumstances, including for general practice positions, position changes to a new hospital network and changes in supervision to level three or four will require a usual application for a change in circumstances.

The Medical Board of Australia (the Board) understands that IMGs may have difficulty demonstrating progression towards general or specialist registration, given that Australian Medical Council (AMC) and specialist college examinations and assessments have been cancelled.

For 2020, the Board will not refuse to renew an IMG’s registration or refuse to re-register an IMG solely because they have not been able to sit an AMC or college examination or assessment. This applies to IMGs who were scheduled to sit an examination or be assessed from March 2020.

National Boards and Ahpra are maintaining a watching brief on this issue and liaising with accreditation authorities. The accreditation authorities have jointly issued advice about the impact of COVID-19 which is available on the Health Professions Accreditation Collaborative forum website.

Individual accreditation authorities have also issued advice so please check their websites. Across the National Scheme we are actively considering how our regulatory requirements can adapt to the COVID-19 emergency while continuing to protect the public. We will publish more information as its available.

National Boards and Ahpra emphasise that all registered health practitioners should follow the public health guidance on COVID-19 issued by the Chief Medical Officer and health departments. Broadly, if a registered health practitioner follows this guidance there are unlikely to be implications for their registration, however the Boards will still need to consider any notification made about a health practitioner case by case.

 
 
 
Page reviewed 7/04/2020