November 2020

Issue 16


    Chair's message

    I’d like to start by welcoming occupational therapy students and graduates. The Occupational Therapy Board of Australia sends three e-newsletters a year to occupational therapists across Australia. This is the first time that we have sent the Board newsletter to students and we will include articles that are of interest to you. You are a valued part of our profession and we hope you will find the newsletter helpful.

    The last six months has been a challenging time for us all in light of varying restrictions on our ability to practise. We worked with other National Boards and Ahpra to support our practitioners in continuing to provide safe care in changing work environments. This involved transferring all our meetings online − that’s us below.

    As the year comes to an end, I would like to wish you all the very best over the Festive Season and the Board and I look forward to a great year ahead for us and for you in 2021. 

    Julie Brayshaw 

    Chair, Occupational Therapy Board of Australia

    Occupational Therapy Board online meeting 2020

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    Board news

    Celebrating resilience during Occupational Therapy Week

    In October, the Board celebrated the resilience demonstrated by Australia’s 24,000-plus registered occupational therapists during a challenging 2020.

    This year’s theme, Resilience: Supporting our communities to rebuild, recover and re-engage, was an opportunity to acknowledge the professional and personal impact this year’s bushfires and global pandemic have had on practitioners.

    From drastically adjusting workplaces to adhere to social distancing guidelines, to pivoting to telehealth and rethinking how care can be delivered, 2020 has been challenging for our practitioners. It’s also had plenty of flow-on effects including for our new graduates and those completing their final studies.

    It has highlighted the strength of the profession and our passion to support the broader community.

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    Have you renewed your registration? Renewal closes soon!

    Occupational therapists are due to renew their general or non-practising registration by 30 November 2020 and online renewal is the quickest and easiest way to renew.

    If you don’t renew on time

    If you do not renew your registration by 30 November 2020, or within the following one-month late period, your registration will lapse. Your name will be removed from the national register of practitioners and you will not be able to practise without making a new application for registration.

    Supporting health practitioners during COVID-19

    The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and National Boards are working with government, health services and others to support health practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have adapted our regulatory approach to support you in these exceptional circumstances. Your registration fees go directly to funding this work and regulating for safety in your profession. We sincerely thank you for your continuing commitment and professionalism.

    What if I can’t meet the CPD or recency of practice requirements for this registration period because of COVID-19?

    We encourage you to continue to do continuing professional development (CPD) that is relevant to your scope of practice and your current work environment. However, we understand that some health practitioners may have trouble meeting the CPD requirements during this challenging time.

    This also applies to the recency of practice requirements.

    You should answer all renewal questions honestly and accurately. Ahpra and the Board will not take action if you declare that you could not meet the CPD and/or recency of practice requirements for the 2020 registration period as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    COVID-19 financial hardship payment plan available

    A payment plan is available for health practitioners experiencing genuine financial hardship due to COVID-19. If you meet the criteria, you will be eligible to pay half your registration fee now and make a second payment in the first half of 2021.

    The payment plan has been developed in response to the exceptional circumstances that the COVID-19 pandemic presents. When making decisions about financial hardship applications, Ahpra and National Boards will consider the financial sustainability of the National Scheme to continue to protect the public balanced with the circumstances of individual applicants and access to the workforce.

    How to apply for the financial hardship payment plan:

    • You’ll need to complete the financial hardship form and wait to hear the outcome before renewing your registration – we can’t consider an application for the financial hardship payment plan if you have already renewed.
    • Information on the financial hardship payment plan and how to apply is on the Board’s Renewal FAQs page.

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    What’s different about registration this year?

    Advertising declaration and audit

    You will be required to complete a new declaration that your advertising complies with Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (National Law) advertising requirements.

    This is part of a risk-based approach to enforcing the National Law’s advertising requirements and compliance by registered health practitioners who advertise their services and will include auditing of health practitioners to check advertising compliance.

    Download your registration certificate and tax invoice

    Paper certificates are no longer issued but you can print a registration certificate from your online services account after you’ve renewed. You can also download your tax receipt.

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    Revised registration standards are now in effect

    The revised registration standards for continuing professional development, recency of practice and professional indemnity insurance arrangements came into effect on 1 December 2019.

    The Registration standard: Continuing professional development requires you to complete 20 hours of CPD each year, with five of those hours 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 fact sheet on CPD exemptions.

    The Registration standard: Recency of practice requires you to have practised a minimum of 750 hours over the last five years, 450 hours over the last three years, or 150 hours over the last year. You will also need to submit a professional development plan to the Board for approval if you are making a substantial change to the scope of your practice, for example from an administrative role to providing clinical care. The standard removes the requirement for you to complete 30 hours of continuing professional development in the 12 months prior to applying for re-registration.

    In August the Board hosted a webinar on the revised registration standards outlining the changes and how they affect you in your practice. The webinar was attended by almost 800 practitioners. The webinar recording, including the Q&A session, is published on the Board’s website.

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    Competency standards in practice

    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-study vignettes to help you understand how the competency standards might apply to various occupational therapy roles. The other vignettes can be found in the Board’s August and December 2019 newsletters.

    The following vignette is a positive example of how practitioners can demonstrate their consideration of Practice behaviour 3 of Standard 4.

    Standard 4: Occupational therapy practice and process

    Occupational therapists practise with open, responsive and appropriate communication to maximise the occupational performance and engagement of clients and relevant others.

    An occupational therapist works ethically with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations to understand and incorporate relevant cultural protocols and communication strategies, with the aim of working to support self-governance in communities.

    Penelope has been working in a private practice in a community where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live. She spends time and resources to develop appropriate relationships with members of the community, maintains and continues to build upon those relationships as families grow. Penelope appropriately facilitates arrangements for the continuing care of her clients to be taken on by other practitioners where needed and communicates all relevant information about the care or treatment required.

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    Registration news

    Latest workforce update

    The Board has published its latest quarterly report on workforce data. The report covers the period 1 July-30 September. At that date, there were 24,181 registered occupational therapists, 342 more than at the last quarterly report. Of these, 23,405 had general registration and 674 had non-practising registration. There were 102 practitioners with limited registration (postgraduate training, supervised practice or teaching and research).  

    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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    Students and graduates

    Graduating soon? Here’s what you need to know

    This year’s graduate registration campaign is underway. If you're set to complete your course within the next three months, apply now! See the Board’s news item for everything you need to know, including helpful tips, links to guidance documents and our video for graduating students.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of our lives including clinical placements for students. Ahpra is taking COVID-19 into account in this year’s campaign.

    Avoid delays with your application

    Check out the resources on the Graduate applications page of the Ahpra website before you submit your application. This will help ensure your application is complete, so we don’t have to come back to you seeking clarification or more information. We can then get you registered as soon as we receive your graduate results.

    Financial hardship arrangements

    Some recent graduates may be experiencing financial hardship because of loss of casual or part-time employment in industries disproportionately affected by the pandemic. There may also be changes in financial circumstances in the graduate’s immediate household.

    If you are experiencing financial hardship and are unable to pay the required fees, please contact the Ahpra Customer Service team via web enquiry or on 1300 419 495 to discuss your individual situation before you complete your online graduate application. You can start your application online and pause it if you need to contact us about financial hardship.

    Graduate experience survey and service improvements

    Last year Aphra conducted the first ever survey of new graduates to hear about their experience registering for the first time. We contacted just over 24,000 graduates and had a great response rate of over 15 per cent to the voluntary survey.

    We’re very grateful to those graduates who participated, their feedback will help us improve the experience for this year’s graduates. Some of the improvements we’re making include:

    emailing graduates with updates to complement the online application tracker and give more detail about where your application is at in the assessment process, and 
    providing more guidance on how to correctly certify photo identity documents.

    We hope this will make first-time registration a smoother, less stressful experience.

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    Webinar for graduates now available online

    As in previous years, in September the Board held a webinar for new graduate occupational therapists to help you understand your obligations in becoming a registered occupational therapist.

    This year we had over 400 new or soon to be graduates attend the webinar and it was a great opportunity for us to answer some of your questions about the registration process.

    The webinar recording, including the Q&A session, is published on the Board’s website.

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    Lend us your ears!

    Did you know that Ahpra has a podcast, Taking care?

    Listen to conversations with practitioners, patients, advocates and thought leaders discussing current issues, innovations and how the healthcare system works to keep the public safe. Tune in to episodes about topics such as telehealth, practitioner wellbeing, the impact of the pandemic, and rural and remote practice. 

    Now is a great time to download and listen to the latest Ahpra Taking care podcast, or pick any episode from our catalogue! You can also listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking care’ in your podcast player.

    Taking care podcast image July 2020

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    National Scheme news

    Ahpra 2019/20 annual report: regulating during a pandemic

    Ahpra has released its 2019/20 annual report highlighting our regulatory work with National Boards and our response to the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Ahpra and National Boards have worked closely with accreditation authorities, governments and our partners to ensure we play our part fully in supporting health practitioners and the wider health system response to COVID-19.

    2020 marked the tenth year of national registration. Australia now has more than 800,000 registered health practitioners. This figure includes around 35,000 recently retired health practitioners in eight professions who were returned to registration as part of our pandemic sub-register to support the health system response to COVID-19.

    Regulation can never stand still. COVID-19 meant that Ahpra became a virtual organisation within weeks. We also worked with National Boards to introduce many changes to allow our regulatory work to continue and provided flexibility where it was safe. This included updated guidance about issues such as telehealth services, scope of practice and CPD requirements.

    Maintaining public safety remained paramount across all our regulatory work. We implemented changes to the National Law on mandatory reporting, initiated an independent review of our management of sexual boundary notifications and continued our work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners to eliminate racism from the health system and ensure cultural safety. 

    Insights from the year include:

    • There were 801,659 registered health practitioners across 16 regulated professions, an increase of 7.7% on last year. This includes 35,000 health practitioners on the temporary pandemic sub-register.
    • Between 17 March and 30 June, the COVID-19 portal on the Ahpra website received over 158,000 unique page views. The updates page attracted over 115,000 (unique) views, the FAQs page over 82,000, and the pandemic sub-register over 60,000.
    • More than 82,500 applications for registration were finalised, including over 29,000 applications from new graduates. We halved the median time to finalise an application.
    • The largest growth in registrants was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners +17.7%, paramedics +14.5% and midwives +10.2%.
    • Ahpra received more notifications in 2019/20 than in any other year (10,236), an increase of 9.6%. We closed more notifications than previous years. 
    • While the number of notifications is increasing the overall percentage of health practitioners with a notification stayed around the same level (1.6–1.7%). 
    • The top three reasons for a notification were clinical care (43.5%), medication issues (9.9%) and communication (7.2%). 
    • 132 matters about professional misconduct were determined by tribunals: 100% resulted in disciplinary action.
    • Ahpra received 412 new offence complaints relating to title protection and 584 complaints about advertising. 
    • Ahpra completed 11 proceedings in the Magistrates’ and Local Courts. All prosecutions resulted in guilty findings. 

    To view and download the 2019/20 annual report, visit the Ahpra website

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    Inaugural strategy to increase our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce

    Ahpra marked NAIDOC Week 2020 by releasing our inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy 2020-2025 (the Employment Strategy).

    The goal of the Employment Strategy is to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation within Ahpra through the development of a culturally safe work environment that reflects the diversity of the communities in which we operate and serve. It is a major component of the National Scheme’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Cultural Safety Strategy 2020–2025, which aims to improve cultural safety, increase workforce participation, strive for greater access and close the gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and other Australians.

    The Employment Strategy contains five priority areas to help achieve our goal:

    • build a sustainable talent pipeline through attraction and recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates
    • implement programs and culturally safe work practices which foster the retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees
    • invest in developing the capabilities and careers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, including representation in leadership and senior roles
    • develop culturally safe workplaces through education and culturally safe work practices, and
    • know the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce throughout Ahpra to encourage their engagement in the rollout of the Employment Strategy and achievement of its goals.

    The Employment Strategy recognises the need to build the cultural capability of all Ahpra employees to enable a proactive and leadership approach. We have an opportunity to address systemic challenges now by investing in and nurturing long-term relationships. We encourage and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to seek employment and a career with Ahpra.

    Read more in the media release.

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    Revised advertising guidelines are now available

    Health practitioners are encouraged to check and correct their advertising to make sure it complies with revised guidelines before they take effect on 14 December 2020.

    The National Boards and Ahpra have jointly revised the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service (the guidelines) as part of a scheduled review in line with good regulatory practice.

    The guidelines aim to help registered health practitioners, and other advertisers, advertise responsibly so that the public receives accurate and clear information about regulated health services.

    Changes to the guidelines include:

    • more content about testimonials, protected titles and claims about registration, competence and qualifications
    • new content about the evidence required for claims about the effectiveness of a regulated health service and what is acceptable evidence
    • restructuring of content so that information is easier to find, and
    • new flowcharts to help assess when advertising needs to be supported by acceptable evidence and whether a review is considered a testimonial.

    The National Boards and Ahpra have also updated the Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy for the National Scheme following an evaluation in 2019. The strategy was launched in 2017 to improve voluntary compliance with the advertising requirements and to introduce a new enforcement approach to non-compliance.

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    New guide to increase transparency in regulatory decision-making

    We have published a new guide explaining how National Boards and Ahpra apply the National Law in the management of notifications about a practitioner’s performance, conduct or health. The guide aims to make it easier to understand how and why decisions are made.

    The Regulatory guide and an executive summary are available on the Corporate publications page on the Ahpra website.

    Review of confidentiality safeguards for notifiers

    In June, we welcomed the independent review by the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner 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 Ahpra’s request 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.

    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. We have accepted all 10 recommendations and outlined a timeline to adopt these changes. For more information and links to the documents, read the media release

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    Keep in touch with the Board

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    Page reviewed 27/11/2020