Physiotherapy Board of Australia - September 2020
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September 2020

Issue 26 - September 2020

From the Chair

Kim Gibson

I’d like to welcome student and graduate physiotherapists to the Physiotherapy Board of Australia newsletter. You will now receive the newsletter alongside your registered colleagues. This is the first time we have sent our newsletter to students across the country. You are a valued part of our profession and we hope you will find the Board newsletter helpful now and for your future

This year’s graduate registration campaign is underway so if you're set to complete your course within the next three months, apply now! See the information in this newsletter, along with links to everything you'll need to help smooth the process.  

Like many other bodies across the country, the Board has been holding its meetings online during the pandemic – that's us below. Now we're comfortable with the technology we plan to continue using virtual platforms as much as possible to connect with practitioners, students and stakeholders. 

Kim Gibson 
Chair, Physiotherapy Board of Australia


Physiotherapy Board meeting in virtual space

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Board news

World Physiotherapy Day honours physiotherapists providing care during COVID-19

To celebrate World Physiotherapy Day on 8 September, the Board and the Australian Physiotherapy Council celebrated the critical work physiotherapists are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board Chair Kim Gibson congratulated Australia’s more than 35,000 registered physiotherapists on the positive work they are doing in the current difficult circumstances.

‘There has been no bigger pressure on practitioners than during this COVID-19 pandemic. From the provision of respiratory care in the acute hospital setting, to the rapid uptake of telehealth, to enforcing social distancing, diligent infection control procedures and adapting their role to directly support health services to manage the community pandemic response, physiotherapists have demonstrated their key role in the health workforce,’ Ms Gibson said.

A significant development is the inclusion of physiotherapy among a small number of priority health professions on the pandemic sub-register. On 20 April 2020, 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.

‘Given the current circumstances and the additional pressure on practitioners, World Physiotherapy Day 2020 is also an important reminder to take time for self-care,’ Ms Gibson said.

For more information, see the news item.

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Clinical education during COVID-19

The Board also acknowledges that 2020 has been a challenging time for educators and students for many reasons related to the pandemic, not least the impact on clinical education.

Early on, Ahpra and the National Boards, together with the Australian Government and the Health Professions Accreditation Collaborative Forum, set National principles for clinical education during the COVID-19 pandemic. These principles provide guidance to enable graduating students to complete their clinical training during the pandemic and to protect the future health workforce.

The Board has worked closely with the Australian Physiotherapy Council and the Council of Physiotherapy Deans of Australia and New Zealand to monitor the situation for students and educators. We have seen a strong response from educators supporting final year students to completion with flexibility, innovation and resilience, while ensuring accreditation standards and practice thresholds are met.

‘There is no doubt that placements for some students have been significantly different from what they anticipated. However, they may also have gained experiences above and beyond usual expectations, this year,’ Ms Gibson said.

As graduates complete their placements and enter professional practice it is important for them and education providers to pause, reflect and ensure they are taking good care of themselves.

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Webinar on return to practice

On 7 September, Board Chair Kim Gibson presented a webinar on the obligations you have as a registered physiotherapist under the National Law, with a particular focus on returning to practice. Ms Gibson detailed the practicalities of meeting the recency of practice obligations and what they mean across a working life.

The one-hour event was attended by more than 500 practitioners, who submitted lots of questions for Ms Gibson to answer, both on registration and live during the webinar.

Each year, registrants are required to meet the Recency of practice registration standard, so it is important to understand what recency is and how to maintain it to meet the requirements at both registration and renewal.

Ms Gibson says the definition of practice under the National Law is commonly misunderstood. ‘Under our regulatory system, practice means any role, whether remunerated or not, in which the individual uses their skills or knowledge as a practitioner in their regulated health profession.

‘Practice is not restricted to the provision of direct clinical care. It also includes using professional knowledge in a direct, non-clinical relationship with patients and clients, working in management, administration, education, research, advisory, regulatory, or policy development roles, and any other roles that impact on safe, effective delivery of health services in the health profession.

‘To be clear, practice does not have to be clinical to be considered practice for recency, or any other standard,’ Ms Gibson said.

Missed out, or like to view again?

The webinar recording, transcript and FAQs will be published on our website shortly. All practitioners will be emailed a link to the resources.

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Latest workforce data released

  • The Board’s latest data report on our workforce covers the period 1 April to 30 June 2020.
  • There are 37,113 registered physiotherapists in Australia, of whom 35,611 have general registration and 2,072 are on the short-term pandemic response sub-register.
  • There are 660 physiotherapists with limited registration: 642 for postgraduate training or supervised practice and 18 for teaching and research.
  • There are 842 physiotherapists with non-practising registration.
  • The registered workforce by gender is 65.6% female and 34.4% male.

For more information, including registration by age group and principal place of practice, visit our Statistics page.

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COVID-19 updates for November registration renewal

National Boards have provided COVID-19 pandemic related updates for practitioners due to renew their registration by 30 November 2020.

Financial hardship as a result of COVID-19

National Boards and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people in several ways, including financial hardship.

Financial hardship in the context of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (the National Scheme) means that because of family tragedy, financial misfortune, unemployment, serious illness, impacts of a natural disaster, national health emergency and other serious or difficult circumstances a practitioner is unable to reasonably provide necessities such as food, accommodation, clothing, education and/or medical treatment for themselves, their family or other dependents, and by extension, the costs associated with their registration.

The COVID-19 pandemic is considered a national health emergency for the purpose of this definition.

A payment plan will be available for registered practitioners renewing their registration by 30 November so they can pay the registration fee in two instalments. There will be more information available when renewal applications open in October.

Recent graduates experiencing financial hardship and unable to pay the required fees should contact Ahpra’s customer service team via web enquiry or on 1300 419 495 to discuss their individual situation before they complete their online graduate application.

CPD requirements

Practitioners are encouraged to continue to meet their continuing professional development (CPD) requirements, however Ahpra and National Boards will not take action if a practitioner declares that they could not meet the CPD requirements for the 2020 registration period as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where do I go for more information?

Please see the news item for more information.

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Advertising declaration and audit

When applying to renew their registration in 2020, health practitioners will be asked to declare that, if they advertise, their advertising meets Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (National Law) advertising requirements. This will be accompanied by auditing to check compliance.

Following an advertising audit declaration pilot in 2018, National Boards agreed in November 2019 to introduce a renewal declaration and audit as an effective approach to determine overall advertising and non-compliance rates.

The audit, to be carried out by our Advertising Compliance team from February 2021, will not delay a decision on the application for renewal.

This is part of the approach to improve compliance with National Law advertising requirements in the Advertising Compliance and Enforcement Strategy for the National Scheme. The strategy supports improved compliance with National Law advertising requirements through a responsive, risk-based enforcement and educative approach.

Ongoing evaluation, such as the 2018 pilot audit, is a core component and has informed the revised Advertising and Compliance Enforcement Strategy due to be released soon.

Updated Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service to help health practitioners understand their obligations when they are advertising a regulated health service are also due to be released soon.

Audited practitioners who are found to have non-compliant advertising will be managed under the Advertising Compliance and Enforcement Strategy.

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Regulation at work

Physiotherapist disqualified for forging prescriptions and reprimanded for professional misconduct

A registered physiotherapist in the Northern Territory has had his registration cancelled, been disqualified from applying for registration for three months and been reprimanded by the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal after it was found he had engaged in professional misconduct.

For more information, read the news item.

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Students and graduates

Graduating soon? Here’s what you need to know about registration

This year’s graduate registration campaign is underway. If you're set to complete your course within the next three months, apply now!   

As we all know, this year is unlike any we’ve had before. 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.

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.

Avoid delays with your application

Once application is open, 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.

Customer experience survey and improvements to our service

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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National Scheme news

Appropriate use of social media during the pandemic

Ahpra and the National Boards appreciate the importance of a vigorous national debate on public policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we remind all registered health practitioners that their obligation to comply with their profession’s Code of conduct, applies in all settings – including online.

The Codes of conduct emphasise that practitioners must always communicate professionally and respectfully with or about other health care professionals.

We have received concerns about the conduct of some health practitioners engaged in online discussion, including in semi-private forums.

Community trust in registered health practitioners is essential. Whether an online activity can be viewed by the public or is limited to a specific group of people, health practitioners have a responsibility to maintain professional and ethical standards, as in all professional circumstances.

In using social media, you should be aware of your obligations under the National Law and your Board’s Code of conduct. For more information see: Social media: How to meet your obligations under the National Law.

Anyone with concerns about the online conduct of a health practitioner can contact 1300 419 495 or make a notification.

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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.

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Changes in regulatory practice since review of the use of chaperones to protect patients

An independent report has found reforms of the regulatory management of allegations of sexual misconduct have had a profound impact.

Ahpra and the Medical Board of Australia commissioned the author of the ground-breaking 2017 Independent review of the use of chaperones to protect patients in Australia, Professor Ron Paterson, to assess what had been achieved and identify what more could be done to improve their handling of sexual misconduct allegations.

Professor Paterson, Professor of Law at the University of Auckland and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Melbourne Law School, found that Ahpra and the Medical Board have fully implemented ‘nearly all’ his recommendations and made significant changes to regulatory practice.

The report notes the huge changes since 2017 to community and media discussion of sexual misconduct arising from the #Metoo movement and as a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The report finds that the National Scheme compares favourably with international health practitioner regulators on this issue and is highly advanced in how it operates in this complex and demanding area. Major changes to regulatory practice made by the Medical Board and Ahpra since 2017 to improve the handling of allegations of sexual boundary violations include:

  • abandoning the use of mandated chaperones and only rarely imposing practice-monitor restrictions
  • centralising the expertise and handling of allegations of sexual boundary violations, and
  • extensive specialised education and training for decision-makers and investigators handling these matters.

Ahpra and the Medical Board have accepted all Professor Paterson’s recommendations to ensure continuous improvement, including by:

  • improving communication with notifiers and practitioners and reducing timelines
  • improving support for notifiers (especially when cases go to tribunals), and for decision-makers and staff, and
  • applying new ministerial ‘public interest’ guidance to sexual boundary notification decisions.

Sexual boundary violations have a devastating impact on patients. For highlights of our action plan to address Professor Paterson’s recommendations and more information, read the media release.

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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 the request of Ahpra 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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Social research results: perceptions of Ahpra and the National Boards

Ahpra and National Boards have released results from the second annual survey of stakeholder understanding and perceptions of our role and work. The results help us to better understand what the community, regulated health professions, and our stakeholders think and feel about us, particularly in areas of understanding, confidence and trust. The insights gained will inform how we can improve our engagement with both the professions and the community.

The report provides the results from anonymous surveys conducted in late 2019 of a random sample of registered practitioners and a random sample of members of the public across communities in Australia. There were nearly 6,000 responses from practitioners and 2,000 from the broader community. Both surveys were managed by an independent consultant.

Overall, the results show positive perceptions of Ahpra and National Boards. The surveys were, in the main, the same as ones carried out in 2018 and enable comparison of changes in awareness and sentiment over the period. The reports in PDF format are available in the news item.

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Want more information?

  • Visit the Board’s website for the mandatory registration standards, codes, guidelines and FAQs.
  • Lodge an online enquiry form.
  • For registration enquiries, call 1300 419 495 (from within Australia) or +61 3 9275 9009 (for overseas callers).
  • Address mail correspondence to: Kim Gibson, Chair, Physiotherapy Board of Australia, GPO Box 9958, Melbourne, VIC 3001.

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Page reviewed 27/05/2022