Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Winter 2022
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Winter 2022

From the CEO

Welcome to our winter 2022 update. We’re bringing you the latest news from the National Scheme, covering topics to support safe and professional practice.

Martin Fletcher

Supporting safe and professional practice

Changes to the National Law

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 was introduced into the Queensland parliament (our lead jurisdiction for legislation) in May. The Amendment Bill includes more than 30 reforms, including:

  • that protection of the public and public confidence in the safety of services provided by registered health practitioners and students is the paramount guiding principle for the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme
  • a new objective and guiding principle to support a culturally safe health workforce that is responsive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
  • reforms that will strengthen governance and public protection.

On 1 July, the Queensland Health and Environment Committee presented their report on their examination of the Amendment Bill to the Queensland parliament.

The Bill is likely to be debated by the parliament in the coming month subject to Queensland parliamentary priorities. 

More information is available on the Queensland Legislation website.

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Revised code of conduct for 12 professions

Twelve National Boards have a revised shared Code of conduct (the code) which came into effect on 29 June 2022. Boards only made changes where needed to keep the code up-to-date, effective, clear and relevant. Among the changes are a new section on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety which includes the National Scheme’s definition of cultural safety.

The code sets out National Boards’ expectations of professional behaviour and conduct for all practitioners registered in these 12 professions. This consistency supports inter-professional practice and contributes to safety and quality in healthcare. The public can also use the code to better understand what they can expect from registered health practitioners and if the care they provide meets expected standards.

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Independent review into cosmetic surgery

In November 2021, Ahpra and the Medical Board of Australia commissioned an independent review of patient safety issues in the cosmetic sector, including how to strengthen risk-based regulation of practitioners in this increasingly entrepreneurial part of the profession. Some worrying features of the cosmetic industry set it apart from conventional medical practice, including:

  • corporate business models which are alleged to place profit over patient safety
  • no medical need for cosmetic procedures
  • limited factual information for consumers, and
  • exponential growth in social media that emphasises benefits and downplays risks.

The review has wasted no time in hearing from the community and the medical profession about what can and should be done to improve patient safety. This includes topics such as social media, education and training for doctors, strengthened guidelines, and information for patients.

The consultation, which closed in April this year, received over 230 written submissions and generated more than 550 survey responses. The independent reviewer has considered these submissions, and the report and our response will be published on 1 September.

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Support for practitioners, patients and the public during COVID

Guidance on access to care for all, regardless of vaccination status

National Boards expect registered health practitioners to facilitate access to care regardless of someone’s vaccination status. People cannot be denied care if steps can be taken to keep the person, health practitioners and their staff safe. But how best to do this in the current COVID-19 environment?

We have developed guidance to help support good practice in this context. The guidance reinforces existing codes and guidelines and other publicly available information and does not introduce new or different requirements. We expect practitioners to first comply with public health orders in their state or territory; the principle of safely facilitating access to care should then guide decisions about treating people.

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Practitioners on temporary sub-register continue to support health system

There are more than 20,750 practitioners with temporary registration on the pandemic response sub-register (the sub-register) which enables them to return to practice and support the health system. These practitioners would not normally be available as a healthcare workforce and have temporary registration to support the COVID-19 response and other healthcare demands currently facing our health system.

They are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners, dental practitioners (all divisions), diagnostic radiographers, medical practitioners, midwives, nurses, occupational therapists, optometrists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, podiatrists and psychologists.

All practitioners on the sub-register are registered until 21 September 2022 and can work to the full scope of their registration, subject to any notations.

So that practitioners who are currently practising can support our health systems for longer, we are writing to all practitioners on the sub-register in late August to provide information about the options available to them to stay registered which will take effect on 22 September 2022.

Practitioners on the sub-register must let Ahpra know before midnight on 21 September 2022 if they want to:

  • opt in so their temporary registration is extended to expire at midnight on 21 September 2023, or
  • formally apply for registration on the main register (Register of practitioners) using a transition pathway.

Alternatively, practitioners can do nothing and allow their registration to expire. The name of practitioners who do not contact Ahpra will be removed from the sub-register on 22 September 2022, and these practitioners will no longer be able to practise.

We continue to work with health departments during these challenging times to help as best we can. This includes our escalation of the assessment of applications for registration where critical workforce needs have been identified. 

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COVID frontline workers tell it like it is in new book

Professor Marie Bismark joined us in May to speak about her recently published book, The experiences of health workers in the COVID-19 pandemic – in their own words (Routledge, February 2022). Marie is Professor of Public Health Law at the University of Melbourne and her research focuses on the role of clinical governance, regulation, and patient complaints in improving the quality and safety of healthcare.

Marie worked as part of a group of clinicians and researchers to carry out an online survey of frontline health workers. Their aim was to understand the effect the COVID-19 pandemic on these groups. The standard ‘Is there anything else you want to tell us?’ question at the end of the survey found that yes, there was a lot that people wanted to say: 250,000 words, in fact.

The book that resulted, co-authored with three other researchers, records the complex emotions health workers experienced as the second-wave pandemic unfolded and the challenges they faced in caring for themselves, their families and their patients. Important themes that emerged were captured in the chapter headings of the book:

  • A roller-coaster of mood and meaning
  • Pervasive, precarious, and perilous
  • Self-care struggles and strategies
  • The impossible juggle of work and care
  • Missing the human connection.

We can learn from these insights to strengthen our health and regulatory systems for the future.

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Service charter: what you can expect when you engage with us

Our service commitments are an important public promise

In April we launched the new Ahpra Service charter, which sets the standard of service the public and health practitioners can expect when interacting with us. The Service charter includes five high-level principles which guide our work to meet our aim for communities to have trust and confidence in regulated health practitioners. The service commitments for each principle are clearly set out and represent an important public promise.

We know the service commitments are important to those who interact with us, from insights gathered in surveys and interviews and from staff experience and anecdotal evidence. The Service charter is part of our regulatory tool kit, it complements the Regulatory principles and Regulatory guide and the National Scheme Strategy.

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Learning from tribunal and court outcomes

Case summaries are published for education purposes

There are important lessons for registered health practitioners and employers in tribunal and court decisions and we publish summaries of these in the News section of the Ahpra website. 

Listen up!

Our latest Taking care podcast episodes

Listen and subscribe by searching for Taking care in your podcast player (for example Apple Podcasts or Spotify), or listen on our website.

Our Taking care podcast series covers a wide range of current issues in patient safety and healthcare in conversation with health experts and other people in our community. We also publish transcripts of our podcasts. Recent episodes include:

  • accessing safe healthcare when cost is an issue
  • two conversations about caring for the LGBTIQA+ community, from the perspectives of patients and of practitioners
  • healthcare for people experiencing homelessness
  • healthcare for refugee and asylum seeker communities
  • openness and candour – a road to greater patient safety. 
Taking care

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Check out the National Board news

The 15 National Boards publish newsletters and other information about their work: to visit their websites, follow the links on Ahpra’s home page.

Page reviewed 22/12/2022