We are living in unprecedented and uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every Australian and this impacts on our work as osteopaths and as regulators. As regulators we have been mindful of not overburdening you with information, but we encourage you to look at our recent COVID-19 messages again.
With restrictions now starting to lift around the country, the Board and Ahpra will work on a recovery phase. How we do our work in regulation may change, such as meeting arrangements, service delivery and working remotely. We have not been diverted from our core work and objectives but have found some creative and agile ways of working in the ‘new normal’. Of course, we have embraced Zoom!
I have met with my fellow Chairs on a weekly basis rather than quarterly. Across all professions there has been considerable focus, high regard for and well-deserved trust in our health professionals and experts.
I am sure similar changes are also being considered by osteopaths: how to continue working with the public and keep your business running is difficult in our present situation.
We farewell with deep gratitude Kate Locke for her term on the Board, which finished this month following her move to WA. The incoming practitioner member from Victoria will be introduced once appointed by Ministerial Council.
Finally, on 1 July 2020 we will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Osteopathy Board of Australia and the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (National Scheme). To all those members and stakeholders who were involved in the changeover from state and territory-based osteopathy regulation, and continue to be involved, we thank you for being on the journey.
Dr Nikole Grbin
Chair, Osteopathy Board of Australia
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Please visit the COVID-19 webpage. The National Boards and Ahpra have been regularly updating the COVID-19 FAQs for practitioners, employers and students and there are recent updates in the following categories:
Under Workforce resources there is will be new page of guidance on using telehealth.
Since our last newsletter the Osteopathy Board has published a specific statement for osteopaths during COVID-19. Remember that cleaning and disinfecting treatment tables after every treatment - as if there was a contamination - includes removing towels and linen or using fresh or disposable supplies for each patient.
Make sure you’re across the latest developments.
Ahpra has received a number of complaints or concerns about claims being made by registered practitioners about vaccines, treatments or cures of COVID-19, including historical information about treatment and cures related to previous pandemics. During these challenging times, it is vital that health practitioners only provide information about COVID-19 that is scientifically accurate and from authoritative sources, such as a state, territory or Commonwealth health department or the World Health Organization (WHO). According to these authoritative sources, there is currently no cure or evidence-based treatment or therapy which prevents infection by COVID-19 and work is currently underway on a vaccine.
These complaints have continued to come in since a media release on false and misleading advertising on COVID-19 was published on 31 March 2020. Please take time to read this statement. It states, among other things:
Other than sharing health information from authoritative sources, registered health practitioners should not make advertising claims on preventing or protecting patients and health consumers from contracting COVID-19 or accelerating recovery from COVID-19. To do so involves risk to public safety and may be unlawful advertising. For example, we are seeing some advertising claims that spinal adjustment/manipulation, acupuncture and some products confer or boost immunity or enhance recovery from COVID-19 when there is no acceptable evidence in support.
We remind osteopaths that you must not claim or imply that osteopathic treatment is effective in treating or enhancing recovery from COVID-19 as there is no acceptable evidence in support of this claim.
When using social media, just as with all aspects of professional conduct and behaviour, you need to be aware of your professional obligations. National Boards may consider social media use in your private life (even where there is no identifiable link to you as a registered health practitioner) if it raises concerns about your ability to practice safely and professionally.
You should take care if you comment, ‘like’, or share posts by others who are making false or misleading claims in advertising or contradicting the best available scientific evidence, as this may result in a breach of your own advertising obligations under the National Law. For more information, review the advertising resources developed by Ahpra and National Boards, including Guidelines for advertising regulated health services and Social media: How to meet your obligations under the National Law.
Osteopaths have a responsibility to support public health programs. The Code of conduct states that ‘Practitioners have a responsibility to promote the health of the community through disease prevention and control, education and, where relevant, screening’. If practitioners do not comply and meet the professional standards set by their National Board, regulators can and will take action.
Anyone who has concern about misleading, false or deceptive advertising by a registered health practitioner, clinic or health service is encouraged to report this to Ahpra so the concerns can be investigated. Call 1300 419 495 or visit the Notifications> Raise a concern page of the Ahpra website.
Following the release of the Capabilities for Osteopathic Practice in 2019 the Board requested the Australian Osteopathic Accreditation Council (AOAC) to review the 2016 Accreditation Standards for Osteopathic Courses in Australia. A consultation paper has been prepared for practitioners and key stakeholders to respond to key questions relevant to osteopathy education. AOAC will commence a six week consultation period in early July 2020 with the first consultation paper available on the AOAC website in the near future.
The Board’s latest registration data report covers the period 30 January - 31 March 2020. At that time, there were 2,741 registered osteopaths in Australia. Of these, 2,627 had general registration, 112 had non-practising and there were 2 practitioners endorsed for acupuncture.
For more details on registration by principal place of practice, age and gender, visit our Statistics page.
Ahpra has welcomed the independent review by the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner (NHPOPC) of the confidentiality safeguards in place for individuals making notifications about registered health practitioners.
The Review of confidentiality safeguards for people making notifications about health practitioners was conducted at the request of Ahpra following the conviction of a general practitioner for the attempted murder of a pharmacist who had made a notification about his prescribing practices.
It examined Ahpra’s current management of confidential and anonymous notifications and whether there were ways in which safeguards could be strengthened to ensure the safety of notifiers.
The review found that Ahpra’s practices for managing confidentiality and anonymity were reasonable and consistent with the practices of other regulators internationally. However, there were improvements that could be made. Ahpra has accepted all ten recommendations and outlined a timeline to adopt these changes.
The review makes practical recommendations for strengthening the protection of notifiers while recognising the importance of fairness for health practitioners who are the subject of a notification.
Ahpra and the National Boards are continuing our work to improve the notifications experience for both notifiers and health practitioners who are subject to a notification.
For more information, read the news item.
Ahpra has released many podcasts on areas of interest to all health professionals in the Taking care podcast series. The topics covered in the podcasts include pandemic and non-pandemic-related issues.
In a recent episode on Health practitioner wellbeing in the pandemic era and beyond, psychiatrist Dr Kym Jenkins, clinical psychologist Margie Stuchbery and Dr Jane Munro, a rheumatologist, share personal and professional insights on practitioner wellbeing. They discuss practical and evidence-based strategies to safeguard and support practitioners and teams through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Ahpra releases a new episode every fortnight, discussing current topics and the latest issues affecting safe healthcare in Australia. These include:
Download and listen to the latest Ahpra Taking care podcast episode today. You can also listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking Care’ in your podcast player.
If you have questions or feedback about the podcast, email email@example.com.
National Boards, accreditation authorities and Ahpra, with the Australian Government through the Health and Education portfolios, have issued national principles for clinical education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This unique multi-sector collaboration to protect Australia’s future health workforce is helping students learning to become health practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic continue their studies and graduate.
Some student placements have been paused, cancelled or otherwise modified as health services respond to the pandemic. This has led to uncertainty and change for students and educators as education providers, accreditation authorities, clinical supervisors and others explore alternative options for students to progress towards graduation.
The principles aim to provide helpful guidance about how placements can occur safely, taking into account the significant changes across the health and education sectors due to COVID-19. Visit the National principles for clinical education during COVID-19 to find out more.
In April, the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) issued a media release detailing instances of medical practitioners denying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access to culturally safe healthcare. They were seeking testing for COVID-19. These cases in rural New South Wales and Western Australia involved refusal of care on the grounds of patient identity and racist stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders not practising self-hygiene.
Racism from registered healthcare professionals will not be tolerated, particularly given the vulnerability of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to the virus. They continue to experience prejudice and bias when seeking necessary healthcare. Discrimination in healthcare contributes to health inequity.
We encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have experienced culturally unsafe incidents of care or refusal of care by a registered health practitioner to submit a notification or complaint to Ahpra.
In February 2020, the National Scheme’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety strategy 2020-2025 was released, proving our commitment to achieving patient safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the norm and the inextricably linked elements of clinical and cultural safety. The strategy strives to achieve the national priority of a health system free of racism.
We remind all registered health practitioners that they are required to comply with their profession’s Code of conduct, which condemns discrimination and racism in health practice.
Following a request from Australia’s Health Ministers, Ahpra and National Boards established a short-term pandemic response sub-register to help fast-track the return to the workforce of experienced and qualified health practitioners. The pandemic response sub-register came into effect on 6 April 2020 with over 40,000 doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists added in the first phase and an additional 5,000 diagnostic radiographers, physiotherapists and psychologists in the second phase later that month.
The register operates on an opt-out basis and anyone with a health issue that prevents them from practising safely or who will not have professional indemnity insurance arrangements in place was encouraged to opt out. So far over 35,000 practitioners remain on the sub-register.
There is no obligation for anyone added to the sub-register to practise or remain on it. They can opt out at any time for any reason.
Practitioners who choose to stay on the pandemic sub-register and go back to work, must comply with their profession’s Code of conduct, professional indemnity insurance requirements and work within their scope of practice. After 12 months, they will be removed from the sub-register. If they would like to continue practising after that time, they will need to apply for registration through the standard process.
Being added to the sub-register is the first step in returning to practice. We encourage practitioners to go to their state and territory health department website where they can express interest in joining their COVID-19 workforce. Employers, including health departments, will also play an important role by carrying out employment and probity checks and providing any induction and training that may be needed.
More information for practitioners and employers is available on the COVID-19 information page.
Protected titles are an important public safety measure and we take their misuse seriously.
While we are unable to talk about individuals, we would like to thank everyone who has helped to promote a greater community understanding of the importance of protected titles and their appropriate use.
We have recently been working with media organisations to ensure they understand their legal obligations when using titles such as ‘nurse’, ‘medical practitioner’ or ‘psychologist’.
In Australia, titles that relate to a registered health profession are protected by law. You must be registered with a national health practitioner board (National Board) to use a protected title. To be registered, you must be suitably trained, qualified and satisfy the National Board’s requirements for continuing professional education, professional indemnity insurance and recency of practice.
To use a protected title when you’re not registered, or to hold someone else out as registered when they’re not, breaches the trust the public has in their registered health practitioners. That’s because when the public sees a protected title, they trust that they’ll be receiving safe and professional healthcare and advice.
Ahpra wrote to media organisations to remind them of their obligations under the National Law, and to advise that the easiest way to check if someone is registered to practise and entitled to use a protected title in Australia, is by checking our online register of practitioners. The register, which contains the most up-to-date information about a practitioner’s registration status, is available to members of the public, employers and third-parties. It’s free, available 24/7, with updates made daily.
If you are concerned that someone might be holding themselves out to be a registered practitioner when they’re not, call 1300 419 495 or notify us via the Ahpra website.
In February 2019, the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Qld) was passed by the Queensland Parliament. The amendments included increased penalties and introduced an imprisonment term of up to three years for offences against the National Law. The penalties apply to offences committed after 1 July 2019.
The introduction of an imprisonment term means that some offences will automatically become indictable offences in all states and territories (except Western Australia).
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