02 Apr 2020
As we continue to face the biggest public health challenge of our lives, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic will test our health system and each of us like nothing before it.
While many are caring for sick and frightened patients, some of us will face our own illness and need to care for our families and loved ones. Some of us will be called on to work in unfamiliar situations where our knowledge and experience are needed most.
Professional judgement will be critical to guide us when resources are limited and demand intense.
The Physiotherapy Board acknowledges the important part that all physiotherapists will play in combating the impact of this pandemic and maintaining the health of our community.
Some of you will be at the frontline in the acute setting, particularly in ICUs treating respiratory disease. Others will be taking pressure off medical teams in the emergency department or working towards early discharge of patients to free up hospital beds.
Community physiotherapists can contribute to minimising the impact of COVID-19 by keeping individuals healthy in the community and out of hospital. With the hold on non-essential, elective surgery it is even more important that those individuals who are affected continue to receive treatment and support. Thank you for continuing to provide these vital services where and when you can.
We know that you are moving quickly to adapt your models of care, for example providing services via telehealth.
It will be challenging but critical that vulnerable community members such as the aged, those with a disability and those in rural and remote communities continue to access services and that you will find new ways to assist them in doing so.
We acknowledge that you may need to move from your current scope of practice and move your focus to those areas where you are needed most. This will mean that you may need to upskill, particularly in acute care. We encourage you to access the training you need, whether offered in your workplace or by your professional association.
The Board and Ahpra understand that the current national emergency presents extreme challenges and we sincerely thank you for your commitment and the care you provide. We know our regulatory approach must be modified to accommodate these exceptional circumstances.
The Board has already started to make a series of pragmatic decisions, temporarily modifying some of our regulatory requirements while maintaining patient safety. These changes are set out below. We have also published responses to questions we’ve been asked, some of which may apply to you.
Our profession has well-established behaviours and values which provide a framework for ethical decision-making in a wide range of situations. You should continue to apply such guidance as far as is practical, recognising these are unique and challenging circumstances.
The Board has agreed to the following measures. We are closely monitoring the situation and may make further changes as needed.
We encourage you to continue to do CPD that is relevant to your scope of practice. However, we understand that you 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.
The Board will not take action if you cannot meet the CPD registration standard due to the pandemic when you renew your registration this year.
The Board will keep a close watch on the situation to determine whether the 2021 renewal year is affected.
As a registered physiotherapist you are required to have professional indemnity while practising. While you may not be able to practise at this point, you are maintaining a practitioner’s registration and this insurance requirement does not stop. You will need to maintain your insurance to maintain your registration. This requirement is ultimately to protect you against claims from any current and prior work.
We must care for our patients and clients, ourselves and each other. In providing care, the Board does not expect you to place yourself in harm’s way. Ensuring effective use of personal protective equipment and following relevant infection control requirements and public health advice is key to this.
The Board is aware some health services will be reduced or stopped, including where care cannot be provided in ways that ensure both the practitioner’s and the patient’s safety.
If you know or suspect you are infected you should follow current public health advice including self-isolating. If you have pre-existing health conditions that increase your risk of infection, you should manage this actively, such as by discussing it with your colleagues, employer or place of work.
We are working with the Australian Physiotherapy Council and universities, through the Council of Physiotherapy Deans Australia and New Zealand (CPDANZ) to support final year students to complete their training and to facilitate their involvement in the ‘surge workforce’, where possible and appropriate.
National Boards are working with Ahpra to streamline the return to work process for practitioners who have been off the Register of practitioners or who have held non-practising registration for less than three years. This is being directed by health departments to focus on practitioners who are part of the surge workforce responding directly to the immediate demands of the pandemic and will be expanded in line with their requirements over time.
The Boards and Ahpra will provide regular updates on our website and via email as the situation develops and we respond.
If you are already registered and have capacity to help, for example you are working part-time, taking a break or in between roles, you are also encouraged to see if you can assist. Visit the Ahpra website which has links to work opportunities in each state and territory.
Chair, Physiotherapy Board of Australia