Retired doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists are the first round of health professionals being asked to stand-by should Australia require their knowledge, skills and experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initiative is part of workforce preparedness should Australia experience the surge in demand for healthcare services seen in other countries like the US, at the same time as COVID-19 disease or precautionary isolation reduces the number of available staff.
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About 40,000 health practitioners who have stepped down from practice or whose registration has expired in the last three years have been included on AHPRA’s temporary pandemic response sub-register.
There are no forms to fill out and no fees to pay and, for health professionals who do not wish to return to work, there is an easy opt-out mechanism.
Emeritus Professor Peter Frith, who has retired from clinical practice but is still involved in activities such as the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) told the limbic he had received his email from AHPRA.
“I was indeed notified (on 2 April) by AHPRA that my name has “automatically” been placed on the “temporary pandemic sub-register”. This was an “opt-out” arrangement. Further, if I wished to stay on the register I would need to comply with my profession’s Code of Conduct; comply with professional indemnity insurance requirements; and work within the scope of my practice.”
He said AHPRA expected people to opt out for reasons such as health issues which prevented safe practice, inability to organise the required professional indemnity; changes to criminal history; and being unavailable, not suitable or not safe to practise.
“Then, ‘if you are in a high-risk category for COVID-19, such as being aged 70 or over’ they suggest the only environment that would be safe would be telehealth. So, although it’s an automatic registration, there were so many caveats applying to me that I decided that I did need to opt out.”
Professor Frith said the register, while not for him, was a sound concept.
“I do think it’s an excellent idea to use the wisdom, knowledge and potential skills of retired health professionals, probably in a telehealth sphere preferentially; as well as to offer similar registration to overseas health professionals not licensed to practise in Australia and who are driving taxis, picking fruit, farming, cleaning premises etc etc; and to accelerate students’ training (medical, paramedics, nurses).”
AHPRA said patient safety remains an important focus and practitioners who were subject to regulatory action in the past three years will not be re-registered.
“Employers and health departments will also play an important role by undertaking employment and probity checks and providing any induction and training which may be needed,” AHPRA CEO Mr Martin Fletcher has said.
The pandemic response sub-register came into effect on 6 April 2020.
Other health practitioners including physiotherapists, radiographers and psychologists may be added to the sub-register in the future.