Issue 24: Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia responses to the COVID-19 pandemic
Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter. On behalf of the Board I offer my thanks and recognise the contributions of all medical radiation practitioners of Australia. For those on the front line managing the COVID-19 pandemic, your efforts are hugely important and are greatly appreciated.
I also want to acknowledge those practitioners whose work hours have been reduced and the uncertainty this has created for them. I know that some of you have offered your services to public health services during the isolation period. I applaud your professionalism and collaborative spirit in supporting Australia’s health services to deal with the pandemic.
I commend the great work and collaboration of the various associations and organisations that represent medical radiation practitioners (ASMIRT, ANZSNM, ASA, ASUM and VAHPA) and thank them for their help in disseminating information about the COVID-19 pandemic to registered practitioners.
On a more positive note, I am sure you are all aware of recent data and modelling that suggests social distancing measures are working. While they’re likely to be in place in one form or another for a while longer, they do seem to be effectively slowing the rate of transmission, which is great news.
Chair, Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia
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COVID-19 continues to pose a generational challenge to the health system and the wider Australian community. Some of the threats have necessitated an immediate response; we know some challenges will have a longer-term effect, and some challenges are yet to reveal themselves.
As regulators, the Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia balances public safety with the need to enable governments, hospitals and practitioners to provide front line care to sick and vulnerable patients, to do what is needed to respond to COVID-19. The Board will collaborate with the Medical Radiation Practice Accreditation Committee (the Accreditation Committee), education providers, health service providers and governments to ensure that all students can graduate and be registered, and to maintain a stable medical radiation practice workforce.
A global pandemic affects all of us. The Board is monitoring the situation and where necessary will respond accordingly. To ensure that we emerge from the effects of the pandemic it is important for individuals and organisations to recognise the new environment has changed not just ‘the way we used to do it’ but will have longer term impacts for ‘how we do it in the future’. Developing workable solutions has, and will continue to require, a commitment all those in the health sector to adapt, to approach solutions with greater flexibility, and to work collaboratively to meet our shared interests.
Last week the Medical Radiation Practice Board and Ahpra announced that diagnostic radiographers would be added to the pandemic response sub-register.
Around 1,000 diagnostic radiographers who left the Register of practitioners or moved to non-practising registration in the past three years were added to the sub-register from 20 April.
The pandemic response sub-register was established following a request from Australia’s Health Ministers to enable more qualified and experienced diagnostic radiographers to quickly return to practice. They do not need to fill in forms or pay fees, nor meet the usual return-to-practice requirements. As with the other frontline professions, this sub-register will be available to the jurisdictions in the event of workforce need.
There is no obligation for anyone added to the sub-register to practise or remain on it. They can opt out at any time, for any reason.
The Board encourages those who are not comfortable or able to return to practice to opt out of the pandemic response sub-register. Anyone with a health issue that prevents them from practising safely or who will not have professional indemnity insurance arrangements in place should opt out.
Practitioners who choose to stay on the pandemic sub-register and go back to work will need to comply with the Board’s Code of conduct, professional indemnity insurance requirements and work within their scope of practice. After 12 months (or sooner if the pandemic subsides), they will be removed from the sub-register. If they wish to continue practising after the emergency, they will be able to apply for ongoing registration through the standard process.
If you are already registered and have capacity to help, for example you are working part-time, taking a break or in between roles, you are also encouraged to see if you can assist. Visit the Ahpra website which has links to work opportunities in each state and territory.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions on international and domestic movement has seen the cancellation of a significant number of professional conferences, including the Board’s conference.
While conferences are an important avenue for professional learning, CPD can be done through other mediums including reading online journals, webinars and video conferencing. So, while the method of professional learning may have changed, the overall availability of learning opportunities has not.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique learning opportunity. Many practitioners are doing professional development on COVID-19 issues that ensures patient safety and effective practice during the crisis. The Board recognises this learning requirement and its contribution to professional development.
For the purposes of CPD audit, practitioners need only indicate ‘COVID-19’ on their CPD records for the current registration period 2019/2020.
While the Board will treat registered medical radiation practitioners as having met their CPD obligations during this registration period, we encourage you to continue to do CPD that is relevant to your scope of practice.
The new Professional capabilities for medical radiation practice took effect on 1 March 2020 and are the minimum expectations for practice in the profession. The professional capabilities are used by the Board and the Accreditation Committee in their regulatory functions.
The professional capabilities continue in effect throughout the current emergency period.
While the capabilities introduce a level of change, for the most part, medical radiation practitioners will be quite familiar with the underlying concepts and professional practice requirements. They build upon the previous version (2013) and:
The Supervised practice registration standard and guidelines provide for a robust but flexible approach to supervised practice arrangements.
For those registered practitioners who are part of the Supervised Practice Program it may be necessary for the workplace, in conjunction with the principal supervisor, to adjust the supervision plan to adapt to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supervised practitioners who receive an early final assessment report can apply for and be granted general registration. The Code of conduct continues to be in force throughout the emergency period and after the emergency has passed. Those who complete the Supervised Practice Program early have the same professional obligations as other registered practitioners. As a general registrant you are expected to demonstrate good professional conduct, judgement and performance.
Updated assessment reports that ensure supervised practice is assessed against the new Capabilities have been developed and will be published shortly.
The impacts of arrangements put in place by various organisations to manage the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to have short and medium-term consequences for students across all year levels. These arrangements may affect the length and availability of work-integrated learning (clinical education blocks) and they may also affect the ability to achieve teaching and learning outcomes.
Our immediate focus is on final year students. This important group represents the future of the medical radiation practice workforce and their timely graduation and registration is critical to workforce sustainability.
The Australian Government, through the Health and Education portfolios, the Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia, the Medical Radiation Practice Accreditation Committee, other National Boards and accreditation entities and Ahpra, released principles for clinical education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board will take a pragmatic approach; one that ensures that patient safety is maintained, but that responds to the unusual circumstances. It is also important that students take responsibility for their learning, regardless of current events, and ensure that they are well prepared for professional practice.
There is an important distinction between students and registered practitioners. A student has not completed their qualification, and therefore is not eligible to be a registered practitioner. However, students from different health practitioner programs will often be employed by organisations in allied health assistant roles in the same way as other students maintain part-time work while studying.
Students in medical radiation practice programs of study can take on allied health assistant roles in medical imaging facilities and will not be breaching the requirements of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, so long as they do not use a protected title and/or do not hold themselves out as a registered practitioner or qualified to practise the profession.
Registration as a medical radiation practitioner and a radiation use licence are separate regulatory requirements. The Board does not issue or otherwise deal with radiation licensing; this is done by the radiation licensing authority in each state and territory.
Radiation licensing requirements for students may differ depending on the jurisdiction. We are advised that radiation licensing arrangements for students typically only cover periods of clinical education in an approved program of study which is arranged and managed by the education provider.
It is important for registered medical radiation practitioners (who may be overseeing or supervising allied health assistants) and those employed in allied health roles to be compliant with the relevant legislative and regulatory requirements for radiation use.
The Board and Ahpra often get questions from practitioners, employers and other organisations about matters that are outside our remit.
Professional indemnity insurance (PII) premium refunds
Helping practitioners to find a job in the COVID-19 emergency response workforce
Availability and access to personal protective equipment (PPE)
Clinical issues relating to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19
Decisions about emergency measures including restrictions or required closure of health services and clinics
Decisions about which registered professions are considered ‘priority’ COVID-19 workforce
Technical support for health practitioners using telehealth for patient consults