03 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 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 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.
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.
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 However, we understand that you may have difficulty meeting CPD requirements this year as a result of withdrawn/denied leave requests, conference cancellations and the re-prioritisation necessary to meet workforce needs.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.
In the coming days the Board will be publishing two new CPD guidance documents on its website to help optometrists understand the revised Continuing professional development registration standard. The revised CPD standard was initially published in July 2019 and will replace the existing standard on 1 December 2020. It is important that optometrists remember you do not have to declare you have met this standard until you renew your registration in 2021.
The Board will keep a close watch on the situation to determine whether the 2021 renewal year is affected.
The Board’s CPD registration standard requires practitioners to complete Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training every three years. However, these courses have been postponed by private providers as the CPR component of the course has to be done in person. The Board will be flexible during the pandemic, and if you are due to complete CPR training this year, the Board requests that you complete CPR training when there is no longer an unnecessary risk involved in participating in a course.
The Board recommends that consistent with the Australian Government Department of Health recommendations that are announced from time to time, optometry practices implement a system of phone triage for their patients, to prioritise patients requiring urgent eye and vision care rather than routine examinations.
The Boards and Ahpra are aware that practitioners may have difficulty demonstrating English language proficiency with the current disruption of English language testing.
We are developing alternative approaches to demonstrating English language proficiency that we will publish.
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 so called ‘surge workforce’ responding directly to the immediate demands of the pandemic and will be expanded in line with their requirements over time.
The Board and Ahpra will provide regular updates on our website and via email as the situation develops and we respond.
Chair, Optometry Board of Australia