The work of the Physiotherapy Board of Australia built on its initiatives from last year and was informed by an extensive program of stakeholder engagement.
The Board has been meeting online each month since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March. We have been responding to the needs of the profession, healthcare services and the public by modifying our regulatory approach to support the profession through the pandemic and contribute to the national response.
Since March, the Board has made a series of pragmatic decisions to temporarily modify regulatory requirements. These changes include taking a more flexible approach to CPD requirements. With other Boards, we adopted National principles for clinical education through the COVID-19 pandemic to support students to continue their studies and graduate.
The Board encouraged registered physiotherapists to continue to do CPD in 2020. However, the Board will not take action at renewal this year about practitioners who cannot meet the CPD standard as a result of the pandemic.
Another significant development is the inclusion of physiotherapy among a small number of priority health professions on the pandemic sub-register. On 20 April, over 2,000 physiotherapists who have held registration in the past three years were added to the sub-register and those with capacity to help were encouraged to return to practice. This is particularly important for intensive care patients requiring COVID-related physiotherapy, as well as for others in healthcare facilities (including aged care) and the community who need physiotherapy for injuries, rehabilitation or chronic conditions.
Telehealth has emerged as an important change to patient care during COVID-19 with many practitioners offering telephone or online consultations to support their patients. The overall uptake and feedback have been positive for both patients and practitioners, with many third-party funders agreeing to include physiotherapy via telehealth as a subsidised service. This sets up the ability to provide greater access to physiotherapy during the pandemic and beyond.
As part of its strategic objectives, the Board strengthened its relationships with its key stakeholders, including the Australian Physiotherapy Association and its appointed accreditation authority, the Australian Physiotherapy Council, as well as the Council of Physiotherapy Deans of Australia and New Zealand (CPDANZ). These partnerships were particularly valuable during the COVID-19 preparedness response as we worked together to consider the workforce, public safety and clinical education implications.
Each year the Board organises local presentations with different states and jurisdictions to interact and engage with practitioners. A successful stakeholder engagement event was held in Brisbane. Unfortunately, a planned event in partnership with NSW Physiotherapy Council had to be deferred due to the pandemic. We are considering greater use of virtual platforms for future stakeholder events and webinars.
Physiotherapy is participating in and has contributed to several multi-professional policy reviews, which include a revised supervised practice framework, code of conduct, mandatory reporting guidelines, telehealth guidance and the agreed definition of cultural safety.
The Board is doing work in the area of prescribing to form a view on whether it will progress with an endorsement for prescribing for physiotherapists. We commissioned a literature review and exploration report on the success of physiotherapy prescribing in other jurisdictions and the implications for the Australian context. The Board will develop a better understanding of prescribing as work continues.
The Board committed in its regulatory plan for 2019/20 to improving its understanding of the characteristics of physiotherapy registrants holding limited registration for supervised practice (LRSP). The Board has a particular interest in those working in aged care settings given the vulnerability of the patient population.
The project has given us a better understanding of the characteristics, work settings and periods of supervised practice, and has prompted the implementation of recommendations that can strengthen regulatory mechanisms to ensure public protection.
Ms Kim Gibson, Chair