Occupational Therapy Board of Australia - July 2020
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July 2020

Issue 15

    Chair's message

    Welcome to our first newsletter for 2020, and it’s a bumper issue.

    First, on behalf of the Board I would like to acknowledge you all for your adaptability and responsiveness in managing and working through the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a challenging, interesting and uncertain time for the health system and your continued work has been appreciated.

    Since March 2020 the Board has been meeting online. In recent months we have been responding to COVID-19 from a regulatory perspective. The Board is working with Ahpra to provide up-to-date information on COVID-19 to practitioners including answering common questions: see the Ahpra website

    More recently the Board has started to work on matters that were temporarily put on hold. We look forward to keeping in touch with you through the pandemic and as we continue our regulatory work.

    Julie Brayshaw
    Chair, Occupational Therapy Board of Australia

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    Board news

    Revised registration standards – webinar planned

    As well as responding to the pandemic, the Board has been working on a range of regulatory matters including continuing to review material related to the revised registration standards for continuing professional development (CPD), recency of practice (RoP) and professional indemnity insurance arrangements (PII). The standards took effect on 1 December 2019.

    The standards are clearer, continue to focus on the protection of the public, and align where possible with the requirements of other professions under the National Scheme.

    The Board will be holding a live presentation and Q&A session on the revised standards on 24 August 2020 at 19:00 AEST. This presentation and Q&A session will be recorded and published on our website. The session will be open to interested practitioners and the Board hopes to answer your questions about the revised standards.

    Places will be limited for the webinar, and we encourage you to register if you are interested in participating. Registration details will be published on the Board’s website in early August.

    If you have any questions about the revised standards, we welcome your early queries as these will inform the recorded presentation. Please email your queries to [email protected].  

    Are you graduating soon? Webinar planned

    As in previous years, the Board will be holding a webinar for new graduate occupational therapists to help you understand your obligations in becoming a registered occupational therapist. The webinar is planned for September and details of the webinar will be published on the Board’s website.

    Again, if you have any questions about the webinar, we welcome your early queries. Please email your queries to [email protected].

    Continuing professional development: new standard in effect

    The Registration standard: Continuing professional development came into effect on 1 December 2019.

    The CPD standard requires you to do 20 hours of CPD each year, with five of those being interactive activities that involve other practitioners. The standard specifies the requirements for reflection and how you should select CPD activities that contribute directly to maintaining or improving your competencies and keeping them up to date within your scope of practice.

    The standard also specifies that exemptions will be granted in exceptional circumstances. The Board has published a factsheet on CPD exemptions.

    We encourage all practitioners to read and review the new CPD standard, as the requirements are different from the previous standard. The Board will be exploring these differences in more detail in the webinar on 24 August 2020.

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    Stakeholder engagement

    Despite the restrictions on face to face meetings, the Board has continued to engage with its key stakeholders including Occupational Therapy Australia, the Occupational Therapy Council of New South Wales, the Occupational Therapy Council of Australia Limited, and the Occupational Therapy Board of New Zealand. While the focus has been on the COVID-19 response from a regulatory perspective and how this is impacting upon practitioners and education providers, the Board has also been engaging on matters of mutual interest.

    The Board is keen to continue to maintain strong connections and facilitate greater collaboration with all stakeholders as we all work through this new and challenging environment.

    Competency standards in practice: case studies

    The Australian occupational therapy competency standards (the competency standards) have been in effect since 1 January 2019. The Board expects all occupational therapists to understand and apply the competency standards in their practice. We have developed some case studies to help you understand how the competency standards might apply to various occupational therapy roles. The other case studies can be found in the Board’s August and December 2019 newsletters.

    Standard 3: Occupational therapy practice and process

    An occupational therapist’s practice acknowledges the relationship between health, wellbeing and human occupation, and their practice is client-centred for individuals, groups, communities and populations.

    Seeks to understand and incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ experiences of health, wellbeing and occupations encompassing cultural connections

    Michael has started working with a school-aged client and their family in developing therapeutic interventions to assist the child in attending and participating in school. In working with the client, Michael ignores the kinship ties of the client and dismisses these kinship ties in designing therapeutic interventions and in setting goals. Michael sets goals and establishes interventions based on what he sees as being important. He does not recognise or understand the positive influence that these kinship ties will have on reinforcing positive health and wellbeing outcomes for both the client and their family.

    Michael should have incorporated the client’s kinship ties into the design, process goals and therapeutic interventions that he set for the client and their family.

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    Latest workforce statistics released

    The Board released its latest quarterly registration statistics for the period 1 January to 31 March 2020.

    There are 23,839 registered occupational therapists in Australia, 21,593 (90.5%) are female and 2,245 (9.4%) are male. New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria continue to have the largest numbers of registered practitioners across the country.

    For more information, including data on registration by age group and principal place of practice, visit the Statistics page on the Board’s website.

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    National Scheme news

    Podcasts on the pandemic and beyond

    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. Podcasts include:

    • Let's meet the decision-makers
    • A glimpse of healthcare in our rural and remote communities
    • Balancing purpose and progress in regulation: Professor Kieran Walshe
    • Professor Valerie Braithwaite on the importance of trust
    • Health practitioner wellbeing in the pandemic era and beyond
    • Telehealth in the pandemic era, which includes Ms Leanne Hopkin’s perspective as an occupational therapist
    • Introducing the COVID-19 pandemic sub-register
    • Dr Gerald Hickson on patient safety and high-risk practitioners
    • Eliminating racism from the health system is a team effort
    • A new look at mandatory notifications
    • Ahpra’s role in the health system
    • A view of mental health from both sides
    • The practitioner experience of a notification
    • Safe, competent and ethical health practitioners
    • Vexatious notifications.

    Download and listen to the latest Ahpra Taking care podcast episode today. You can also listen and subscribe on SpotifyApple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking Care’ in your podcast player.

    If you have questions or feedback about the podcast, email [email protected].

    Taking care podcast image July 2020

    Protecting our health practitioners of the future: clinical education principles

    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.

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    No place for racism in healthcare

    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.

    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.

    More professions added to the pandemic response sub-register

    Ahpra and National Boards have established a short-term pandemic response sub-register to help with fast tracking the return to the workforce of experienced and qualified health practitioners. It was established following a request from Australia’s Health Ministers to enable more qualified and experienced health practitioners to quickly return to practice.

    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.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners will be added to the pandemic response sub-register from 1 July 2020.

    Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it is important to ensure that there is a culturally safe and ready workforce of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners to respond to any surge in healthcare demand, especially in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

    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 of the sub-register. So far over 35,000 practitioners remain on the sub-register.

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    False and misleading advertising on COVID-19

    Ahpra and National Boards recognise the vital role of registered health practitioners in treating and containing the COVID-19 emergency. We know you are working hard to keep people safe in a demanding and fast-changing environment.

    A consequence of the current situation is greater public awareness of individual health and wellbeing, leading to many questions to health professionals about treating and containing the disease. While most health practitioners are responding professionally to the COVID-19 emergency and focusing on providing safe care, Ahpra and National Boards are seeing some examples of false and misleading advertising about COVID-19.

    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 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.

    Health practitioners should also not make advertising claims about preventing or protecting people from contracting COVID-19 or accelerating recovery from COVID-19. To do so involves risk to public safety and may be unlawful advertising.

    We will consider action against anyone found to be making false or misleading claims about COVID-19 in advertising. For a registered health practitioner, breaching advertising obligations is also a professional conduct matter which may result in disciplinary action, especially where advertising is clearly false, misleading or exploitative.

    For more information, see Ahpra’s Advertising resources web page.

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    National Boards and Ahpra welcome policy directions

    National Boards and Ahpra have welcomed two new policy directions from the COAG Health Council which reinforce that National Boards and Ahpra are to prioritise public protection in the work of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (National Scheme).

    The two directions state that public protection is paramount and require consultation with patient safety and healthcare consumer bodies on any new and revised registration standards, codes and guidelines, as well as other considerations.

    The first policy direction outlines the consideration that National Boards and Ahpra must give to the public (including vulnerable people in the community) when determining whether to take regulatory action about a health practitioner. It also authorises limited sharing of information with employers and state/territory health departments about serious matters involving the conduct of a registered health practitioner.

    The second policy direction requires National Boards to consult with patient safety bodies and consumer bodies on registration standards, codes and guidelines when these are being developed or revised. It also provides that National Boards and Ahpra must:

    • consider the impacts of the new or revised registration standard on vulnerable members of the community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and
    • prepare and publish a ‘patient health and safety impact statement’ with each new or revised registration standard, code or guideline.

    In implementing these policy directions, National Boards and Ahpra will continue to ensure fairness for health practitioners in regulatory processes. The policy directions can be viewed on the National Boards and Ahpra websites.

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    Changes to mandatory notifications requirements are now in effect

    On 1 March 2020 the amendments to the National Law in relation to mandatory notifications took effect.

    The amendments apply in all states and territories except Western Australia and affect the mandatory reporting obligations for treating practitioners.

    The threshold for reporting a concern about impairment, intoxication and practice outside of professional standards has been raised. The threshold is now reached when there is a substantial risk of harm to the public.

    The National Boards and Ahpra have jointly revised the mandatory notifications guidelines to reflect these amendments. The guidelines are relevant to all registered health practitioners, and registered students in Australia.

    The guidelines aim to explain the mandatory notifications requirements in the National Law clearly so that practitioners, employers and education providers understand who must make a mandatory notification about a practitioner or student and when they must be made. They also aim to make it clearer when a notification does not need to be made.

    Changes to the guidelines include the following:

    • A new, higher reporting threshold for when treating practitioners must make a notification about their practitioner-patients. This is to give a practitioner-patient the confidence to seek help if they need it without undue concern about a mandatory notification.
    • There are now two separate guidelines in place. One is for mandatory notifications about practitioners, and one for mandatory notifications about students. As there are only limited circumstances when a mandatory notification must be made about a student it was decided to develop a separate guideline that is only about students.
    • Restructuring of the guidelines about practitioners according to notifier type (that is, treating practitioner, non-treating practitioner, employer) so that relevant information for each notifier group is easier to find.
    • Updated flowcharts to help potential notifiers assess whether they need to make a mandatory notification.
    • Introduction of risk charts that highlight risk and mitigating factors that may be relevant to deciding if a mandatory notification is required.

    To help explain the requirements and raise awareness, Ahpra and National Boards have released a range of information materials to both ensure patient safety and support practitioner wellbeing. Read the revised guidelines for practitioners and students and the additional resources developed to help explain mandatory notifications.

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    A strategy for embedding cultural safety into the health system

    An ambitious strategy from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health experts, regulators and health organisations committed to embedding cultural safety into the health system has been released by 43 entities including Ahpra and the National Boards.

    The National Scheme’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety strategy 2020-2025 is endorsed by organisations, academics and individuals, including the entities who set the education standards for the 183,000 students who are studying to become registered health practitioners and the regulators of Australia’s 750,000 registered practitioners.

    The strategy focuses on achieving patient safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the norm and the inextricably linked elements of clinical and cultural safety.

    Development of the strategy was led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and individuals via the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Group, which represents all signatories to the strategy.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety strategy 2020-2025

    The vision

    Patient safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples is the norm. We recognise that patient safety includes the inextricably linked elements of clinical and cultural safety, and that this link must be defined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

    The objectives

    Cultural safety: A culturally safe health workforce through nationally consistent standards, codes and guidelines across all registered health practitioners in Australia.

    Increased participation: Increased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the registered health workforce and across all levels of the scheme regulating registered practitioners nationally.

    Greater access: Greater access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to culturally safe services from registered health practitioners.

    Influence: Using the Strategy Group’s leadership and influence to achieve reciprocal goals. This includes developing a nationally consistent baseline definition to be used across the scheme regulating registered practitioners nationally, which has already been achieved in partnership with the National Health Leadership Forum.

    As part of the strategy, we have already reached some goals:

    • partnering with the National Health Leadership Forum (the forum for national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health peak organisations) to consult and finalise a baseline definition of cultural safety for the scheme for regulating health practitioners
    • commissioning high-quality cultural safety training to ensure that the regulation of health practitioners, including the development of standards practitioners must meet and the handling of notifications (concerns about registered health practitioners), is culturally safe, and
    • recommending and advocating for changes to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law to ensure consistency in cultural safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    For more information, read the media release.

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    Statement by National Boards and Ahpra on the misuse of protected titles

    Protected titles are an important public safety measure and we take their misuse seriously. 

    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.

    The National Law protects the title ‘occupational therapist’. Only practitioners who are registered in the occupational therapy profession can use this title. This ensures that only individuals who are suitably trained and qualified can provide services associated with the title ‘occupational therapist’. Practitioners who use the title must also satisfy the National Board’s requirements for continuing professional development, professional indemnity insurance and recency of practice.

    Under the National Law there is no specialist registration for occupational therapists, and the title ‘specialist’ is restricted; it is unlawful for occupational therapists to call themselves specialists or imply that they are specialised. Phrases such as ‘substantial experience in’ or ‘working primarily in’ are permitted as they are less likely to be misunderstood as a reference to specialist registration.

    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 the 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.  

    Tougher penalties for offences committed after 1 July 2019

    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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    Keep in touch with the Board

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    Page reviewed 26/11/2020