Over 300,000 calls were made to the Customer Service team and over 70,000 web enquiries were lodged. Compared to last year the number of calls reduced by 8.5% and web queries increased by 23.2%. The team answered an average of 1,044 calls and responded to an average of 280 web queries per work day.
Our goal on social media is not only to help achieve the National Scheme strategic objectives of ‘improve customer experience’ and ‘enhance strategic partnerships’ but to do so in a way that is interesting and engaging to our followers.
The Ahpra website was viewed almost 31 million times by external users. This year, with staff working from home in response to COVID-19, web statistics include staff working remotely as well as external visitors.
By far the most frequently visited section was ‘Registration’ with over 18 million page views. With almost 900,000 unique page views, the ‘About Ahpra’ section was the next.
The home page and the Register of practitioners page were the most popular pages with almost 4 million unique page views of the home page and over 3.5 million unique page views of the national register.
There were over 1 million searches of the register (practitioners also search the register to check the status of their registration).
Reminders about checking registration status online, registration renewal and registration fees were the most popular news items accessed from Google searches. The April announcement of the pandemic sub-register received over 13,000 page views and the March statement from the National Boards and Ahpra about COVID-19 almost 12,000.
This year we emailed a total of 51 e-newsletters to registrants and stakeholders. These included National Board newsletters with important information on registration and regulation sent to all registered practitioners, and our Ahpra report to around 6,000 external stakeholders in July and December. The Chinese Medicine Board newsletter is also published in Chinese translation online.
Newsletter production was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting transfer of all Ahpra’s functions and staff to working remotely and online in March. All National Board newsletters after 25 March, except for one pandemic-specific issue in late April, were put on hold while the Boards and Ahpra staff concentrated on the COVID-19 communications effort. This intense focus continued until late May, when normal newsletter production resumed.
We continue to see high rates of engagement with Board newsletters. The highest open rate was 75% (Chiropractic Board of Australia newsletter, June 2020). Of the 51 newsletters sent, 10 achieved open rates of 70% or higher, 13 had rates of 60–68%, and 26 newsletters had open rates of 45–59%. The lowest open rate was 40%. Current industry averages for Australia (government and healthcare) are around 26%.
We also published a booklet titled A unique and substantial achievement: Ten years of national health practitioner regulation in Australia to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the National Scheme on 1 July. This publication was launched early, at the National Scheme Combined Meeting in February when National Board members, national and international guest speakers and some of Ahpra’s founding staff were present.
Ahpra successfully met the statutory reporting requirement by submitting the 2018/19 annual report in the required timeframe. At 30 June, the report had received over 13,000 unique page views.
Ahpra and the National Boards responded to 469 media enquiries from journalists and media outlets across Australia and internationally. We also published 474 news items including 61 media releases.
Our media communications are an important extension of Ahpra and the National Boards’ number one priority to ensure public safety. We are focused on educating the public about the important work of health practitioner regulation, what level of care to expect from a registered health practitioner in Australia and how to report a concern. As in previous years, we responded to numerous enquiries about the actions taken by National Boards about individual practitioners and related outcomes.
This year our proactive media activities included the public promotion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety strategy, the changes to mandatory reporting requirements and the launch of Ahpra’s Criminal Offence Unit.
We also initiated an important public safety campaign to raise awareness about cosmetic procedures.
Our media team played a key role during the COVID-19 response. The launch of the pandemic sub-register on 6 April generated significant media interest with 62 new enquiries received that month.
Throughout the year, Ahpra and the National Boards have continued to work cooperatively on a number of media and communications activities with our co-regulatory counterparts and the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner.
In November we launched a podcast series called Taking care to share important discussions about healthcare in Australia, with a focus on public safety, featuring registered health practitioners and others in frank conversation.
At 30 June, we have published 14 episodes on varied topics including vexatious notifications, public expectations of health practitioners, eliminating racism from the health system, and a rural and remote health practitioner view.
The podcasts had 10,414 listens from launch to 30 June. At over 2,000 listens, the most popular episode, ‘Telehealth in the pandemic era’, looked at telehealth’s rapid emergence as practitioners adapted to the changing needs of our population, continuing to practise and keep the public safe and healthy.
Everyone in the Ahpra community and beyond can listen, subscribe and share by searching ‘Taking care’ on any podcast player.
Growth in the number of regulated health professions led to a refresh of our branding. Simplified logos for Ahpra and National Boards were rolled out in late 2019.
We regularly consult with advisory groups to gather feedback, information and advice.
The past year was busy for the Professions Reference Group (PRG) with topics discussed including the graduate registration campaign, proposed supervised practice framework, cosmetic procedures and consumer-focused information, mandatory notification campaign, consultation on cultural safety, engagement strategy, multi-profession policy and accreditation, and consultation on amendments to the National Law.
Other matters discussed during this time include an update on the implementation of the Policy Directions issued by Health Ministers to Ahpra and National Boards, advertising guidelines consultation, and the National Scheme strategy 2020-25.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PRG adapted its meeting format and held regular virtual meetings so we could provide updates and consult members on our response to the pandemic, including the development of the pandemic response sub-register.
We sought the advice of the Community Reference Group (CRG) on the draft National Scheme strategy and the draft Engagement strategy; how and why we conduct research within the National Scheme; accreditation standards, how we can strengthen the consumer voice as we implement the Ministerial policy directions made in late 2019, and how we could best inform consumers about making safe choices when considering cosmetic procedures and surgery.
We surveyed health practitioners and members of the community for the second time about their awareness and understanding of our work, and their levels of trust and confidence. The project included a short anonymous survey to random samples of practitioners and the community. There were nearly 6,000 responses from practitioners and 2,000 from the broader community. The results showed significant gains in some areas and consistent outcomes in others. Among members of the community who were aware of Ahpra and the National Boards, 74% expressed trust in Ahpra and 71% were confident Ahpra was doing everything it can to keep the public safe. A total of 67% said they trusted a National Board and 67% were confident the Board was doing everything it could to keep the public safe. Over half of practitioners expressed trust in Ahpra (55%) and National Boards (60%).
In June, Ahpra and the National Boards approved our first national Engagement strategy. The aim of the strategy is to build the trust and confidence of our key stakeholders in our work to protect the health and safety of the public.
We know that to do our work effectively we rely on members of the community, health practitioners, students, employers, co-regulators, educators and many others to engage and work with us, as we regulate more than 800,000 registered health practitioners across Australia. They rightly expect us to be fair, transparent, responsive, empathic and accountable.
The Engagement strategy provides a clear direction and commitment to effective engagement and is directly linked with the National Scheme strategy 2020–25. Our engagement will have a three-pronged emphasis on relationships and partnerships, cultural safety and a person-centred focus. An engagement reference group, made up largely of external members from our key stakeholder groups, has been formed to advise and support the implementation of this work, which will build over the next five years.
The National Scheme’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Group developed the National Scheme’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety strategy 2020-2025. The strategy is endorsed by 43 organisations and entities, and academics and individuals, including accreditation authorities.
The strategy was launched in February. It focuses on achieving patient safety for Aboriginal and Torres Islander Peoples as the norm and the inextricably linked elements of clinical and cultural safety.
After public consultation, the Strategy Group in partnership with the National Health Leadership Forum developed a baseline definition of cultural safety for the National Scheme.
By definition, cultural safety is determined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families and communities. Culturally safe practice is the ongoing critical reflection of health practitioner knowledge, skills, attitudes, practising behaviours and power differentials in delivering safe, accessible and responsive healthcare free of racism.
The Strategy Group farewelled and thanked inaugural co-chair Professor Gregory Phillips and welcomed Mr Karl Briscoe, CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association (NATSIHWA) to co-chair with Ms Julie Brayshaw, Chair of the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia. Ms Jacqui Gibson-Roos, member of the Dental Board of Australia, was appointed to the newly created position of Deputy Chair.
PwC Indigenous Consulting (PIC) in conjunction with Griffith University First Peoples Health Unit (GUFPHU) are our partners providing the Moong-moong-gak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety training. A pilot of the training was run between April and June. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pilot program was adapted from an intended blended approach of online and face-to-face learning to completely online delivery.
There were 66 pilot participants including Ahpra staff from across all directorates and members of the Agency Management Committee, Strategy Group, the Strategy Group’s Caucus of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, and National Boards. The pilot program included online learning, critical reflective activities, quizzes and collaborative sessions. Feedback from pilot participants will inform the full roll-out of training in 2020/21.
This year, we report on two significant decisions made by the Ministerial Council.
In January, Ahpra and the National Boards welcomed two new policy directions from Health Ministers that reinforce that Ahpra and National Boards are to prioritise public protection in the work of the National Scheme.
The first policy direction clearly states that public protection is the paramount consideration in the administering of the National Scheme. The second policy direction requires National Boards to consult with patient safety bodies and consumer bodies on registration standards, codes and guidelines when they are being developed or revised.
Ahpra and National Boards have established processes to ensure the requirements of both policy directions are met in its regulatory decision-making. In implementing these policy directions, Ahpra and National Boards will continue to ensure fairness for health practitioners in regulatory processes.
On 31 October, the Ministerial Council requested preparation of legislation to address proposed reforms to the National Law that cover the strengthening of public protection, improving the administration and operations of the National Scheme and amendments to the objectives and principles of the National Scheme. Ahpra is providing advice and assistance to health departments in preparing these draft amendments for their consideration by the Queensland Parliament.
Ahpra has continued its work as a recognised World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Health Workforce Regulation. The objective of the Collaborating Centre is to work in partnership with WHO to strengthen the capacity and skills of regulators in the Western Pacific Region of WHO.
An important way to achieve this objective is the Western Paciﬁc Regional Network of Health Workforce Regulators. Currently, this network has members from over 20 countries in the region, seeking to share knowledge about regulation and working together to improve standards. We held four regional network webinars in 2019, on a range of health workforce regulation topics, and we are continuing the series in 2020 and 2021.
We welcomed bilateral engagement opportunities with several nations in the region (Papua New Guinea, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Fiji, and also with Hong Kong) for the purpose of information sharing, policy development and technical advice.
Of note, in September the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia, RMIT University and our collaborating centre co-hosted a WHO meeting about strengthening regulatory systems for traditional and complementary medicine practitioners in the Western Paciﬁc Region. Participants from 13 countries exchanged information on the current status of regulation of traditional and complementary medicine practitioners across the region and discussed opportunities for future collaboration to improve regulatory standards.
Our work with the international organisation the Council for Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR) has led to not only significant information exchange between regulatory bodies but also the roll-out of a nationally based training program for all Ahpra investigators, which has led to greater consistency and quality in our work. This work was done in partnership with CLEAR and is based on a certiﬁed investigator training program.
An indicator of our close involvement is that in 2019 Ms Kym Ayscough, Ahpra’s Executive Director for Regulatory Operations, was appointed as President of CLEAR, the ﬁrst president from the Southern Hemisphere.
CLEAR presented the 2019 Regulatory Excellence Group Award to three staff – Mr Matthew Hardy, National Director, Notiﬁcations; Ms Susan Biggar, National Engagement Adviser; and Ms Monica Lambley, Program Manager, Notifications – for their work to improve the notiﬁer and practitioner experience.