A new, opt-out sub-register has been created to enable certain health professionals to return to practice during the COVID-19 pandemic
As the health sector prepares for the expected growth in pressure resulting from COVID-19, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and the National Boards have announced a new pandemic sub-register to fast-track the return to the workforce of experienced and qualified health practitioners.
This includes around 2,200 previously registered pharmacists, Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher told reporters on Wednesday.
Following the request from Australia’s Health Ministers to enable more health practitioners to quickly return to practice, Ahpra, the Medical Board of Australia, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia and the Pharmacy Board of Australia will establish a short-term pandemic response sub-register for the next 12 months.
The move is unprecedented in Australia, though international jurisdictions such as New Zealand and the UK have implemented similar measures.
This sub-register will enable doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists who previously held general or specialist registration and left the register of practitioners, or moved to non-practising registration in the past three years, to return to practice.
Only those who are properly qualified, competent and suitable will be returned to the register.
Mr Fletcher pointed out that those who had their registration cancelled or suspended since 1 January 2017, or who were subject to any disciplinary action at that time, will not be eligible, nor will those practising with conditions on their registration when they left it.
Employers will be expected to do their own due diligence when considering employing pharmacists on the sub-register.
Ahpra will email more than 40,000 practitioners who meet the criteria to alert them that they will be added to this new sub-register, which will operate on an opt-out basis.
The temporary sub-register will operate on an opt-out basis with practitioners added to the pandemic sub-register automatically. They will not need to fill in forms or pay fees, nor meet the usual return to practice requirements, nor will they be expected to undertake CPD.
There is no obligation for anyone added to the sub-register to practise or remain on it, and practitioners can opt out at any time, for any reason. Mr Fletcher said that Ahpra will not require those who opt out to give any explanation as to why they do not wish to take part.
He said that Ahpra is asking for these practitioners to weight their own personal circumstances when deciding whether or not to remain on the sub-register, saying that anybody with a health issue which would put them at significant risk of a bad outcome should they contract COVID-19 should strongly consider opting out.
Likewise, practitioners in the high-risk age group should also consider opting out.
However he said that there was also plenty of scope for practitioners to work in a non-public facing capacity, thus freeing up time for other practitioners to do so.
Mr Fletcher said that the measure aims to get more practitioners into the health system quickly and safely.
Even if only 5% to 10% of relevant practitioners come back to the health workforce, this could mean an extra 2,000 to 4,000 workers in the field, he said.
“We want more of our critical health practitioners available to work as part of the health system in responding to the pandemic,” he said.
“Patient safety remains an important focus and registered practitioners who were subject to regulatory action in the past three years will not be re-registered.
“Employers and health departments will also play an important role by undertaking employment and probity checks and providing any induction and training which may be needed.”
Practitioners who choose to stay on the pandemic sub-register and go back to work, will need to comply with their profession’s code of conduct, professional indemnity insurance requirements and work within the scope of their practice.
After 12 months (or sooner if the pandemic subsides), they will be removed from the sub-register. If they wish to continue practising after the emergency they will be able to apply for ongoing registration through the standard process.
Ahpra expects the sub-register to be in place from 6 April.
Other health practitioners including physiotherapists and radiographers will be added to the sub-register in the near future.