02 Apr 2020
As we continue to face the most significant 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 will face financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, some of us will confront our own illness and need to care for our families and loved ones. 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, both personally and professionally – this means that both our regulatory response and how you practice must be modified to accommodate and respond to these exceptional circumstances. We sincerely thank you for your commitment and the care you provide.
On 27 March, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) released advice to dental practitioners about managing COVID-19. The AHPPC is governments’ key decision-making committee for health emergencies. The committee has an ongoing role to advise all governments on health protection matters and national priorities. It is tasked with the role of mitigating emerging health threats related to infectious diseases and the environment as well as natural and human-made disasters.
Their advice reads: ‘AHPPC recommends adopting the Managing COVID-19 guidelines issued by the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and implementing a triage system for dental practice. AHPPC recommends that all dental practices implement level 3 restrictions as outlined in the ADA’s guidance. That is, dentists [sic]* should only perform dental treatments that do not generate aerosols, or where treatment generating aerosols is limited. All routine examinations and treatments should be deferred.’ *This applies to all dental practitioners.
The Board expects all dental practitioners, including oral health therapists, dental therapists, dental hygienists, dental prosthetists and dentists, to follow the AHPPC’s recommendation and apply it in their practice setting.
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.
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 been asked, some of which may apply to you.
We are closely monitoring the situation and may make further changes and updates as needed.
The COVID-19 emergency is impacting on registered health practitioners’ CPD in various ways, including where CPD events or leave are cancelled. National Boards encourage practitioners to continue CPD relevant to their practice where possible. However, we do not want CPD requirements to take you away from clinical care or cause additional concerns to those already under extra pressure due to COVID-19. Accordingly, if you can't meet the CPD standard because of the COVID-19 emergency, we won't take any action for the registration period during which the COVID-19 emergency is in force.
This also applies to the Board’s Endorsement for conscious sedation registration standard, and the requirement to attend a Board-approved and competency-based course each 12-month registration period to maintain endorsement.
However, if the COVID-19 emergency resolves more quickly than expected, we may issue updated guidance about what CPD National Boards would expect to be completed within the current registration period.
The Boards and Ahpra are aware that some practitioners applying for registration may have difficulty demonstrating English language proficiency because of the current disruption of English language testing. We are developing alternative approaches to demonstrating English language proficiency that we will publish on our website.
National Boards and Ahpra are working with government, health services and others to support the registered health workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Registration fees directly fund our work to maintain public safety. Boards are considering how to support individual practitioners who are experiencing financial hardship which would prevent them from re-registering. This could include accepting applications for financial hardship considerations during their profession’s renewal period if a practitioner’s ability to practise has been significantly affected by COVID-19. We will make announcements about registration fees ahead of the renewal period opening.
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 crucial to this.
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 take action to manage this, such as discussing it with your colleagues, employer or place of work.
We also urge you to take care of your own health during this pandemic. These are unprecedented times, and it is vital that dental practitioners look after themselves and each other. Information about general support services is available on the Ahpra website.
Where to go for more information
The Board and Ahpra will provide regular updates on our websites and via email as the situation develops and we respond. In the interim, some useful resources to help you manage COVID-19 include:
Dr Murray Thomas
Chair, Dental Board of Australia