Welcome to the first newsletter for 2022, and the first in my three-year term as the new Chair of the Board. We celebrated International Women’s Day in March, and I’m proud to be the first female Chair of the Optometry Board of Australia. Women now make up more than two-thirds of National Board members across the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (National Scheme), and 10 of the 15 National Board Chairs are women.
In 2021 we bade farewell to three Board members, including Ian Bluntish, previous Chair and member for South Australia; Daryl Guest, member for Tasmania; and Adrienne Farago, community member. I’d like to thank our outgoing Board members for their unwavering commitment to protecting the public during their terms. In particular, thank you to Ian, who played a substantial role in the development and implementation of the National Scheme and led the Board as the national regulator of optometrists over his four terms.
We also welcome three new members to the Board: read more below. You can find out more about the Board members on our website.
Chair, Optometry Board of Australia
The Supervised practice framework (the framework), developed by the Optometry Board of Australia along with 12 other National Boards and Ahpra, came into effect on 1 February 2022. The framework outlines the Board’s expectations and supports supervisees, supervisors and employers to understand what is necessary to effectively carry out supervised practice. The framework also includes the principles that underpin supervised practice and the levels of supervised practice.
To support supervisees, supervisors and employers to understand and apply the framework some FAQs have been developed. There are also two ‘key steps’ diagrams which outline the main steps of supervised practice for registration requirements or suitability and eligibility requirements and of supervised practice following a complaint (notification). These resources are accessible on Ahpra’s Supervised practice page.
Details about the transition arrangements for new and current supervisees are published on the Ahpra website.
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An advance copy of the revised Code of conduct (the code) is available now and we encourage you to read and be familiar with it before it comes into effect on 29 June 2022. The code sets out our expectations of professional behaviour and conduct for optometrists. You have a professional responsibility to apply this code in your practice, helping to keep the public safe.
There will be specific supporting materials developed for optometrists and we will let you know when these are released.
From time to time most primary care health practitioners will see patients who require care outside of their scope of practice. This would normally involve referral to another practitioner, which in the case of the optometry profession is often an ophthalmologist or GP. In some instances, the most appropriate referral may be to another optometrist.
For example, if you’re an optometrist with general registration and you have a patient diagnosed with an eye infection caused by herpes simplex virus, you could refer your patient to an optometrist holding endorsement for scheduled medicines for appropriate therapeutic management.
You can refer complicated contact lens fittings to an optometrist who works in a contact lens practice. Similarly, you can refer children to optometrists who run paediatric optometry clinics, for example for myopia control.
The new Code of conduct, which comes into effect on 29 June 2022, defines what is considered a referral:
Referral involves one practitioner sending a patient to obtain an opinion or treatment from another practitioner. Referral usually involves the transfer (in part) of responsibility for the care of the patient, usually for a defined time and a particular purpose, such as care that is outside the referring practitioner’s expertise or scope of practice.
All optometrists have professional and legal obligations under the National Law. Do you know what they are?
Here’s a quick quiz to see if you know which of the following is an obligation of a registered optometrist:
If you believe these are all obligations of a registered optometrist, you are correct.
It’s important to note that while we send emails every year to remind practitioners to renew their registration on time, there are other legal obligations under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (the National Law) where the onus is on you to contact us.
You should be aware of the obligation to notify us of changes in your circumstances, particularly those related to your principal place of practice, name or address.
Each year at renewal time, we ask optometrists about criminal offences. You must also remember that you have an obligation to report any applicable criminal charges or convictions within seven days, not just at renewal.
This is a reminder of the importance of being aware of all your professional and legal obligations, not just those for initial and ongoing registration. An infographic showing the obligations of a registered optometrist is available on the Board’s Registration page.
In December 2021, the health ministers appointed three new members to the Board: Benjamin Graham, community member; Renee Slunjski, practitioner member from South Australia; and Martin Robinson, practitioner member from Tasmania.
We asked two of the new members to tell us a little about themselves and you’ll find out more about the third new member in the next newsletter.
I have always aimed to maintain a balance between giving and profiting. In optometry, giving can occur in many ways, from concession pricing to running outreach clinics. I felt a position on the Board would allow me to give back to optometry and the Australian public at large.
I worked in Queensland for the first half of my career, and Tasmania for the second half. I have worked as a member of outreach eye teams serving First Nations communities of Palm Island, Cape York Peninsula, and the Torres Strait Islands. I help to educate optometrists around Australia through my role as Vice President of the Cornea and Contact Lens Society. I also own my own independent optometry practice in Glenorchy, Tasmania.
I hope to promote culturally safe optometric care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I’d like to engage with community stakeholders to help guide the optometry profession as it continues to grow and change.
I have a passion for helping people, which is why I chose a career in healthcare. Being a member of the Board enables me to provide care to the public by incorporating change at a higher level. I also sought the opportunity to work in a team of individuals who shared this passion, but had vastly different experiences, and hoped my younger-minded perspective would be valuable to them.
My experience includes working in a small private practice full-time, but I’ve also had many opportunities during my studies to work overseas in Nepal and the USA, as well as on outreach trips to bring care to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
I hope to bring patient-focused opinions relevant to everyday optometry practice, and to represent a younger-minded perspective. The Board is very progressive and motivated to keep improving how the optometry profession delivers safe and accessible care, and I am excited to see how much this will evolve over my term.
The Board’s latest quarterly registration data has been released. The report covers 1 January to 31 March 2022. At this date, there were 6,497 registered optometrists (which includes 35 practitioners on the pandemic sub-register).
For more details, including registration data by principal place of practice, age and gender, visit our Statistics page.
In September 2021, Ahpra and the National Boards established a new sub-register (the 2021 sub-register), enabling recently retired practitioners from 12 regulated health professions to return to practice for up to 12 months.
There are now 20,730 health practitioners with temporary registration on the sub-register to support the COVID-19 response. They are optometrists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners, dental practitioners (all divisions), diagnostic radiographers, medical practitioners, midwives, nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, podiatrists and psychologists.
All practitioners on the 2021 sub-register can work to the full scope of their registration (subject to any notations). Their registration expires on 21 September 2022. However, if governments alert Ahpra and the National Boards to significant changes in need, the sub-register may stay open for longer.
For more information, see pandemic response sub-register and FAQs for practitioners. There are also FAQs for employers.
Ahpra and the National Boards recognise that registered health practitioners have led the remarkable public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and commend them for their sustained efforts.
National Boards expect all health practitioners to facilitate access to care regardless of someone’s vaccination status. People cannot be denied care if steps can be taken to keep the person, health practitioners and their staff safe.
Good practice involves keeping health practitioners, staff and patients safe. Some practitioners may be considering how best to do this while also facilitating access to care in the current COVID-19 environment.
Ahpra and the National Boards have developed guidance to help support good practice in this context. The guidance reinforces existing codes and guidelines and other publicly available information and does not introduce new or different requirements for practitioners.
National Boards expect practitioners to first comply with public health orders in their state or territory. The principle of safely facilitating access to care should then guide decisions about treating people in a COVID-19 environment.
Recently, there’s been some discussion about protected titles and how they work to protect the public. Ahpra and the National Boards provide the following guidance to help inform the discussion.
In Australia, the titles of registered health professions are 'protected' by law. This is important because they can act as a sort of shorthand for patients and consumers. When someone uses a protected title - for example, ‘optometrist' - you can expect that person is appropriately trained and qualified in that profession, registered, and that they are expected to meet safe and professional standards of practice.
The protected titles under the National Law can be accessed on the bottom of the Ahpra FAQs page. Examples of when a protected title has been unlawfully used and the outcomes can be found on the Ahpra Court and tribunal decisions page.
Health Ministers have recently consulted on whether ‘surgeon’ should be a protected title under the National Law, and in what specialties it should apply, or if other changes should be made to help the public better understand the qualifications of medical practitioners. For more information on the consultation, visit the Engage Victoria website.
Read the news item for more details on this topic.
The Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee has tabled its report on the inquiry into the Administration of registration and notifications by Ahpra and related entities under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.
Ahpra actively engaged with the inquiry, with representatives of Ahpra, the Agency Management Committee and Community Advisory Council all appearing. There were public submissions and stakeholder appearances.
We will consider the recommendations directed to Ahpra and National Boards and contribute to the Australian Government response, as requested.
The report is available on the Inquiry web page.
Ahpra releases fortnightly episodes of the Taking care podcast, discussing current topics and the latest issues affecting safe healthcare in Australia. You can access these on the Ahpra website or listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking care’ in your podcast player. Recent episodes include:
The first episode of Taking care for 2022 is a powerful and honest conversation about family violence and the role of health practitioners in helping survivors.
What is the best approach to support a practitioner’s professional practice to ensure patient safety? How do we regulate when honest errors occur in a workplace environment?
In this episode, we hear stories of people in LGBTIQA+ communities and their experiences and challenges accessing healthcare. They offer their advice for others experiencing the same and about what practitioners can do to better support these communities.
Dr Judy Tang, clinical neuropsychologist, and Dr Lee Cubis, clinical psychologist, speak about the changes, small and big, that health practitioners can make to provide safe care to LGBTIQA+ patients.