How does COVID-19 impact my AHPRA notification and other regulatory matters?

12 May 2020

AHPRA, in consultation with the 15 National Health Practitioner Boards that it works with (together referred to as the Regulator below), has compiled information relating to the regulatory implications of COVID-19 on its new ‘Responding to COVID-19’ page. Also included is a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions (FAQ's).

We set out below a selection of FAQ's and the Regulator’s responses in relation to the following key issues, together with some tips on how practitioners can ensure compliance and best protect their interests during these uncertain times:

  1. Compliance with conditions and undertakings
  2. Completing education by videoconference
  3. CPD requirements, and
  4. Responding to complaints.

Do practitioners who have conditions or undertakings on their registration still have to comply with them during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Regulator’s response: All conditions or undertakings (restrictions) imposed on a practitioner’s registration continue to be in effect and monitoring of compliance by the practitioner will continue as outlined in their monitoring plan or the restrictions. Practitioners are still required to comply with all aspects of the restrictions. If a practitioner’s circumstances mean their ability to comply with the restrictions is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, they should contact their case officer. Practitioners will need to provide evidence of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their ability to comply and the efforts they have made to meet their obligations. This may include evidence from third parties such as a practitioner’s employer, senior person, or other nominated individuals. The National Board may need to consider a practitioner’s specific circumstances and make a decision. A practitioner’s case officer will advise if this is the case and the timeframes that will apply.

Our tip: For conditions or terms of an undertaking that require the practitioner to complete a certain task such as education or a reflection, it is often the case that, the sooner a practitioner can complete the task, the sooner the restrictions will be removed from their registration. In such circumstances, it may be in practitioners’ best interests to avoid variations to restrictions which extend the timeframe for compliance.

Can a health practitioner do one-on-one education via videoconference, rather than face-to-face?

Regulator’s response: Yes, while there are recommendations or orders in place by the relevant health department to minimise or avoid interpersonal contact. Once the Board has approved the one-on-one education to be done, it may be conducted via videoconference with the agreement of the health practitioner’s Board-approved educator.

Our tip: Practitioners should liaise with their case officer and obtain the necessary approval from the Regulator prior to completing education by videoconference. Failure to do so may result in the education not counting towards completion of the specified amount of hours required.

What are the implications for health practitioners who do not complete the requirements of their National Board’s registration standard for continuing professional development?

Regulator’s response: The Boards and AHPRA understand that practitioners may have difficulty meeting CPD requirements this year as a result of withdrawn/denied leave requests, conference cancellations and the re-prioritisation necessary to meet workforce needs during the COVID-19 emergency response. Boards are considering these factors against their individual annual regulatory requirement for practitioners to complete CPD. Boards will publish more information once available.

Our tip: Practitioners should carefully consider their own circumstances and whether they are able to accrue CPD points in the current climate. If practitioners are able to accrue CPD points, they should do so rather than relying upon the Regulator making changes to CPD requirements.

How will AHPRA and National Boards respond to potential impacts of COVID-19 on notifications processes?

Regulators response: Public safety is the first priority for the National Boards and AHPRA. They recognise that registered health practitioners play a vital role in treating and containing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Depending on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will take into account potential impacts on notification processes and timeframes. For example, if practitioners need more time to respond, this will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

They are actively planning to minimise any impact of disruption to our operations on our processes and at this stage are not anticipating impacts on notifications processes.

Our tip: If a practitioner receives correspondence from the Regulator (i.e. AHPRA) regarding a complaint made against them, they should notify their professional indemnity insurer and/or medical defence organisation immediately. If an extension of time to respond to a complaint is needed, practitioners should seek appropriate advice before requesting an extension. Any request for an extension should be made to the relevant contact person at the Regulator as soon as possible and prior to the specified deadline.

Failure to do so may result in the Regulator considering the circumstances of the notification without the benefit of the practitioner’s response. If the Regulator agrees to provide an extension over the telephone, the practitioner (or their representative) should follow up with an email to the Regulator confirming the new date for compliance.

For the most up-to-date information regarding the regulatory implications of COVID-19, practitioners should refer to the Regulator’s ‘Responding to COVID-19’ webpage.

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