September 2020

Issue 17 - September 2020


From the Chair

Ian BluntishI’d like to welcome student and graduate optometrists to the Optometry 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.

The last six months has been a challenging time for registered optometrists in the face of national, state and territory restrictions arising from COVID-19. In the face of stage 4 restrictions in Victoria, we recently communicated the need to adhere to directives on permitted work arrangements issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

During the pandemic we have worked with other National Boards and Ahpra to support health practitioners to continue to provide safe care to their communities with updated guidance and information to health practitioners and the public. We modified our regulatory approaches to accommodate the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic: read more below.

Ian Bluntish
Chair, Optometry Board of Australia

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Board news

Our regulatory response to COVID-19

Completion of clinical placements

The Board recognises that the impact of the pandemic caused issues such as the completion of clinical placements by final-year cohorts of optometry students. We are grateful for the alternative teaching strategies and equivalent learning experiences for students deployed by optometry schools at universities and the collaborative assessments provided by the Board’s accreditation body, Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand (OCANZ).

For each program of study, OCANZ has assessed material changes to any accreditation standards. The main accreditation issues for 2020 graduating students are the adequacy of changes to teaching methods, assessment and clinical training to produce a safe, competent optometrist.

Flexibility around current CPD and CPR requirements

During the pandemic, the Board encouraged practitioners to continue to do available continuing professional development (CPD) that is relevant to their scope of practice. However, we recognise the difficulty in meeting CPD requirements this year as a result of withdrawn or denied leave requests, conference cancellations and the re-prioritisation necessary to meet workforce needs.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 your registration is renewed at the end of 2020. Just make sure you state this on your declaration.

The Board’s CPD registration standard requires practitioners to complete cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training every three years. However, these courses may have been postponed by private providers as the CPR component has to be done in person. We will be flexible during the pandemic. If you are due to complete CPR training in 2020, the Board asks that you do this when there is no longer an unnecessary risk involved in participating in a course.

Prioritising urgent eye care

Consistent with the Australian Government Department of Health recommendations that are announced from time to time, we recommend optometry practices implement a system of phone triage for their patients, to prioritise patients requiring urgent eye and vision care rather than routine examinations.

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New standards, codes and guidelines

CPD

On 30 June 2019, the Ministerial Council approved the Board’s revised Continuing professional development (CPD) registration standard, which will come into effect on 1 December 2020. This gives optometrists time to familiarise themselves with a system that moves from a CPD points system to one based on hours.

The standards were revised after a joint scheduled review, which included stakeholder and public consultation. The revised standard will apply to applicants for renewal from 1 December 2020. You can find advance copies of both the registration standard and guidelines on the Board’s website.

To help you meet the revised standard, the Board has consulted with practitioners, developed and published a suite of detailed guidance documents on CPD.

The Chair also gave a short presentation on the revised CPD registration standard at Optometry Australia’s CPD changes summary lecture.

Limited registration

We published an updated fact sheet to provide greater clarity for applicants seeking limited registration for postgraduate training and/or supervised practice. To practise as an optometrist in Australia, you must be registered with the Board.

This registration standard applies to overseas-trained optometrists and other eligible optometrists applying for limited registration for postgraduate training or supervised practice, or renewal of limited registration for postgraduate training or supervised practice.

Return to practice

In response to the needs of practitioners who would like to plan a lengthy break from practice while remaining registered, the Board has published Return to practice explanatory material to help you understand your obligations to stay in touch with the profession.

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Engagement

The Board will convene the annual meeting of the Optometry Regulatory Reference Group (ORRG) in October 2020. The group is a discussion forum for matters about the registration of optometrists and the accreditation of optometry programs under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (National Scheme). ORRG also helps foster communication and understanding of the different regulatory and accreditation issues in Australia and New Zealand.

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Accreditation

The Board has approved the second year of funding of a five-year accreditation funding agreement with OCANZ. The agreement sets out the accreditation functions for programs of study, associated funding, fee setting and new key performance indicator arrangements within a contemporary framework. The framework addresses accreditation issues such as cultural safety, safety and quality, and reducing regulatory burden and aims to strengthen accountability and transparency of accreditation in the National Scheme.

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Forums

The Board and members of its committees participated in the biennial National Scheme combined meeting in February 2020, which brought together all National Boards, accreditation authorities and other partners to share information and discuss initiatives, challenges and opportunities a decade after the scheme’s establishment.

Ahpra and National Boards produced a booklet to celebrate our first 10 years at the start of this year, which provides a pre-COVID-19 snapshot of some of our work. A unique and substantial achievement: Ten years of national health practitioner regulation in Australia is a snapshot of memories and achievements and can be downloaded from the Ahpra website.

The Board is pleased to support the National Scheme’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety strategy 2020-2025, launched at the meeting by Ahpra and National Boards. You can read more about the strategy in this newsletter.

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Review of complaints

The Board commissioned Ahpra to conduct a review of complaints between 2010 and 2017 about optometrists and in 2019 confirmed that most optometrists in Australia provide safe and effective care, with the profession drawing fewer complaints than the average for all regulated health professions.

We also released an information guide to help the public know what to expect when visiting a registered optometrist or optician.

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Registration

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.

COVID-19 financial hardship payment plan available

A payment plan will be available for health practitioners experiencing genuine financial hardship due to COVID-19. If eligible, practitioners will be able to pay half their registration fee at renewal and make a second payment in the first half of 2021. Practitioners will need to complete and upload a financial hardship application form prior to completing their renewal – applications cannot be considered after a practitioner has renewed. Applications will close on 17 November 2020 to allow processing time.

CPD requirements

Practitioners are encouraged to continue to meet their 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 and 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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Latest workforce data released

The Board releases quarterly data on the registered optometry workforce. The latest statistics cover the period 1 April to 30 June 2020. At that date, there were 6,043 registered optometrists nationwide.

Registration type by principal place of practice

Registration types

Registration subtypes

ACT

NSW

NT

QLD

SA

TAS

VIC

WA

No PPP

Total

General

94

1,954

39

1,177

368

110

1,570

446

89

5,847

Limited

Postgraduate training or supervised practice

2

4

 

4

1

 

2

7

2

22

Teaching or research

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

1

Non-practising

2

43

 

28

1

1

32

4

62

173

Total

98

2,001

39

1,209

371

111

1,604

457

153

6,043

 

For more details, including registration by age group and gender, visit our Statistics page.

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Students and graduates

Graduating soon? Here’s what you need to know

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

Make sure you 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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Protecting our health practitioners of the future: clinical education principles

National Boards, accreditation authorities and Ahpra, with the Australian Government through the health and education portfolios, have issued national principles for clinical education during the COVID-19 pandemic. This unique multi-sector collaboration to protect Australia’s future health workforce is helping students learning to become health practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic continue their studies and graduate.

Some student placements have been paused, cancelled or otherwise modified as health services respond to the pandemic. This has led to uncertainty and change for students and educators as education providers, accreditation authorities, clinical supervisors and others explore alternative options for students to progress towards graduation.

The principles aim to provide helpful guidance about how placements can occur safely, taking into account the significant changes across the health and education sectors due to COVID-19. Visit the National principles for clinical education during COVID-19 to find out more.

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National Scheme news

Lend us your ears

Have you tuned into Ahpra’s podcast, Taking care?

Listen to conversations with practitioners, patients, advocates and thought leaders discussing current issues, latest innovations and how the healthcare system works to keep the public safe. Tune in to episodes about topics such as telehealth, practitioner wellbeing, the impact of the pandemic, and rural and remote practice.

Now is a great time to download and listen to the latest Ahpra Taking care podcast, or pick any episode from our catalogue! You can also listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking care’ in your podcast player.

Taking care podcast image July 2020 

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No room for racism in healthcare

The National Scheme’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural safety strategy 2020-2025 was launched in February and its work is well underway.

This ambitious strategy from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health experts, regulators and health organisations is endorsed by organisations (including accreditation authorities), academics and individuals. It represents a shared commitment to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes, making patient safety the norm and eliminating racism from the health system.

In response to some examples of racist behaviour by health professionals amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ahpra and the National Boards reinforced their zero tolerance for racism in healthcare through a statement issued in April. Read the full statement on the Ahpra website.

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Getting more practitioners back on the register

The pandemic sub-register was created at the request of Australia’s Health Ministers to enable more health practitioners to quickly return to practice if needed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-April, more than 40,000 doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists who had recently held general or specialist registration or moved to non-practising registration and met other specific criteria were added to the temporary register on an opt-out basis. Around 5,000 physiotherapists, psychologists, and diagnostic radiographers were added by the end of the month, and there are currently 35,000 registered practitioners remaining on the sub-register.

The sub-register has recently been expanded to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners on an opt-in basis.

More information, including FAQs, for practitioners and employers is available on the COVID-19 information page.

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Countering false and misleading advertising on COVID-19

Ahpra and National Boards recognise the vital role of registered health practitioners in treating and containing the COVID-19 emergency. We know you are working hard to keep people safe in a demanding and fast-changing environment.

A consequence of the current situation is greater public awareness of individual health and wellbeing, leading to many questions about treating and containing the disease. Patients and health consumers should always receive accurate and truthful messages so they can make the right choices about their healthcare. While most health practitioners are responding professionally to the COVID-19 emergency and focusing on providing safe care, we have seen some examples of false and misleading advertising on COVID-19.

In March we reminded registered health practitioners that, other than sharing health information from authoritative sources, they should not make advertising claims on preventing or protecting patients and health consumers from contracting COVID-19 or accelerating recovery from COVID-19. To do so involves risk to public safety and may be unlawful advertising.

It’s also important that health consumers treat any advertising claims about COVID-19 cautiously and check authoritative sources, such as state, territory or Commonwealth health departments, for health information.

For more information, see Ahpra’s Advertising resources page.

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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 healthcare 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, health practitioners should be aware of their obligations under the National Law and their 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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Social research results, including the Optometry Board social research project

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 Optometry Board of Australia also published a report based on the results of the online survey of registered optometrists.

The reports in PDF format are available in the news item.

To help inform our future work we will survey practitioners and the community again in 2020; the results from these surveys will be released in 2021.

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Keep in touch with the Board

  • Visit the Board website for registration standards, codes, guidelines and FAQ.
  • 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: Ian Bluntish, Chair, Optometry Board of Australia, GPO Box 9958, Melbourne, VIC 3001.

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Page reviewed 21/09/2020