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August 2021

Issue 23 - August 2021

Chair’s message

Murray Thomas

We understand the challenges you and your family, patients and team face due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns are likely to continue, so dental practitioners need to adjust their practice in keeping with the government-imposed restrictions.

This means using your professional judgement in line with the Board’s Code of conduct and your state or territory government’s public health orders and advice. Ensure you practise as required under those health orders. 

In section 2.4 of the code, Decisions about access to care, good practice involves keeping practitioners and their staff safe when caring for patients. The presence of coronavirus may place patient and staff safety at risk, so you must refer to the code and consider other relevant workplace legislation, such as employment and work health and safety obligations.

Hopefully, the forecast increase in national vaccination levels will improve our day-to-day lives. In the meantime, we must continue to practise safely. Thank you for your ongoing professionalism. 

If you need someone to talk to, call Dental Practitioner Support on 1800 377 700.

‘Reply when questioned on the safety of the polio vaccine he developed: It is safe and you can’t get safer than safe.’ – Jonas Salk

Dr Murray Thomas
Chair, Dental Board of Australia

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Board news

New committee terms begin 1 July 2021

Following a successful recruitment campaign, the Board has appointed members to the new national committee terms, beginning 1 July 2021. The Board has established four national committees to which it has delegated decisions about specific matters, under the National Law.These are the:

  • Immediate Action Committee
  • Notifications Committee, Assessment
  • Registration and Compliance Committee
  • Notifications and Compliance Committee.

Members are appointed for a two-year term.

1 The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law).

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We’ll soon be asking for your views on the guidelines on infection control

The Board is reviewing its Guidelines on infection control and as part of the review, we’ll be asking what you think of our proposed options.

Part of the Board’s role, as outlined in the National Law, is to set registration standards for dental practitioners, and to develop codes and regulatory guidelines for the profession. The Board first published the Guidelines on infection control in 2010 to set out the obligations of dental practitioners for maintaining good infection prevention and control. These are now due for scheduled review to ensure continued relevance in a dynamic regulatory environment.

As set out in the National Law under section 39, regulatory guidelines are by their very nature prescriptive documents as they can be used as evidence in legal proceedings. They must conform with legal requirements and are not easily amended – they can take a long time to review and update. As a result, it can be challenging to respond to changing contexts, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, formal guidelines (under section 39) should not be about specific areas of practice.

The Board is considering whether to replace the guidelines with resources to help practitioners comply with their obligations and promote and support practitioners to practise professionally. This would mean that the Board can be more responsive and update material more quickly reducing unnecessary regulatory burden.

To ensure you don’t miss out on having your say, register your details at [email protected] so we can let you know when public consultation opens.

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Share your experience of practising under the scope of practice standard

The Board is keen to hear from dental practitioners who have now practised for a year under the revised Scope of practice registration standard.

The revised standard and supporting guidelines took effect on 1 July 2020.

Under the standard, dental practitioners across all divisions of dentistry are responsible for the decisions, treatment and advice they provide and must only perform dental treatment:

  • for which they have been educated and trained, and
  • in which they are competent.

Dr Murray Thomas said the standard enabled all dental practitioners to exercise their full scope of practice, making them responsible for the decisions, treatment and advice they provide.

‘Dental practitioners should be aware and respectful of the education and training completed by each of the dental divisions, and a practitioner must refer a patient if the care is outside their scope of practice.

‘This will help to maintain strong professional relationships with other practitioners and divisions so they can work together as a cohesive dental team.’

Dr Thomas said any practitioners who would like to share their experiences of practising under the revised standard for the past year were welcome to contact the Board.

‘The revised standard continued the Board’s incremental approach to transitioning the dental profession away from prescriptive requirements for scope.

‘We would welcome any feedback on what effect the revised standard has had on dental teams, across a range of clinical settings.’

Practitioners can email [email protected].

A 'know your scope' hub of resources includes a reflective practice tool.

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Do you know what your professional obligations are?

Dental practitioners have professional and legal obligations. Do you know what they are?

Under the National Law, every registered practitioner has obligations they must meet. Here’s a quick quiz to see if you know which of the following is an obligation of a registered dental practitioner:

  • Complete an approved program of study.
  • Meet national registration standards, codes and guidelines.
  • Renew registration every year.
  • Notify of changes to your principal place of practice, name or address within 30 days.
  • Maintain recency of practice.
  • Carry out and record continuing professional development.
  • Make a mandatory notification (required in some limited circumstances).
  • Notify in writing within seven days if charged with or convicted of an offence punishable by 12 months jail or more.2
  • Comply with audits to check renewal declarations.

If you believe these are all obligations of a registered dental practitioner, you are correct.

It’s important to note that while we send emails every year to remind dental practitioners to renew their registration on time, there are other legal obligations under 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 around your principal place of practice, name or address.

Recent media coverage about a tribunal decision following Health Care Complaints Commission action against a dentist in New South Wales highlighted that the dentist had failed to notify the Dental Board within the required time period after being charged with drug possession.

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 dental practitioner is available on the Registration page.

2 See section 130(3) of the National Law for other events requiring written notice to the Board.

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Latest workforce data released

Registration data for the period 1 January to 31 March 2021 is now available. It shows that at this date, there were 24,902 registered dental practitioners in Australia. Of these:

  • 22,171 had general registration
  • 1,767 had general and specialist registration
  • 58 had specialist registration
  • 50 had limited registration (postgraduate training, supervised practice, teaching or research), and
  • 855 had non-practising registration.

For more data, including registrant numbers by division of dental practice, age, gender and principal place of practice, visit our Statistics page.

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Students and graduates

Support for students and graduates

Studying and getting ready to enter the workforce can be stressful but support is just a phone call away.

The pressures of being a student or new graduate are numerous and amplified by COVID-19, particularly in 2020 when government-imposed lockdowns affected face-to-face learning.

In July 2020, the Board launched Dental Practitioner Support for all dental practitioners, students, graduates and their families. Anyone can seek support anonymously from the national 24/7 health and wellbeing service.

An experienced team can provide callers with confidential advice and referral on a wide range of issues, including mental health and physical wellbeing.

Access Dental Practitioner Support:

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Information for practitioners on voluntary assisted dying law in Western Australia

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 (WA) (the Act) came into full effect on 1 July 2021. Registered health practitioners need to be aware of the Act and its requirements. Some provisions are relevant to all registered health practitioners (and healthcare workers). Some provisions are specifically relevant to medical practitioners, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and paramedics.

Resources have been developed by the WA Department of Health and the Voluntary Assisted Dying Implementation Leadership Team in collaboration with stakeholders. These are available at: https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/voluntaryassisteddying and include the WA Voluntary Assisted Dying Guidelines.

The following resource provides a starting point for health practitioners in understanding their obligations, responsibilities and protections under the Act:

For further information, visit the website.

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Information for practitioners on changes to Queensland Criminal Code: Child Sexual Offences

As of 5 July 2021, Queensland’s Criminal Code Act 1899 is amended under the Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020 to include two new offences (Criminal Code, Chapter 22 – Offences against morality):

  • ss. 229BB – Failure to protect a child from a sexual offence: will make it an offence to fail to protect a child from a sexual offence in an institutional setting. The offence will be punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment for an ‘accountable person’ who fails to protect a child from a sexual offence.
  • ss. 229BC – Failure to report sexual offending against a child to police: will make it an offence for any adult not to report sexual offending against a child by another adult to police. This obligation extends outside of the workplace to our responsibility as members of the Queensland community to protect children. The offence will be punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment for any adult who fails to report child sexual abuse to police.

The offences recognise the difficulties victims have in disclosing or reporting abuse, the vulnerability of children, and the risk that perpetrators of child sexual abuse may have multiple victims and may continue to reoffend against particular victims over lengthy periods of time.

The Criminal Code amendment does not replace the mandatory reporting obligations of doctors and registered nurses under the Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld) (the CP Act).

This advice applies to all registered health practitioners; for further information please visit: www.qld.gov.au/law/crime-and-police/types-of-crime/sexual-offences-against-children.

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National Scheme news

You may notice that our public register looks a little different

We’ve launched a new-look public register with enhanced search capabilities.

The aim of the enhancements is to make the register easier to use, especially for those in our communities who may have barriers to access.

What’s different?

Some of the changes you’ll see include:

  • increased prominence of the register on the Ahpra homepage so it’s easier to find
  • simplified language with pop-up information boxes, and
  • improved search functionality, including:
    • predictive text
    • phonetic searching capability
    • search by location, and
    • refined search filters (including being able to search by the 15 most common community languages).

To help users navigate the new-look register, we’ve developed a ‘how to search’ video which is available on our Help and tips page.

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Guidance on reflective practice reports

New guidance is now available for practitioners who are subject to education or mentoring conditions as part of their registration.

The new guidance: Information sheet – Reflective reports (Education) and Information sheet – Reflective reports (Mentoring) is published in the Monitoring and compliance section of the Ahpra website.

National Boards have also approved a new form for review of conditions of undertakings (form ARCD-00) which is published on the Registration Common forms page. Ahpra is also developing guidance for practitioners on the information required by National Boards when considering applications to change or remove conditions or undertakings.

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Promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations: further information

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and Ahpra have released a joint statement about the promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations and responsibilities practitioners and others have under the National Law when advertising a regulated health service.

On 7 June 2021, the TGA issued updated guidance about the promotion of approved COVID-19 vaccines to clarify the way health practitioners and others can communicate to the public about COVID-19 vaccines.

This updated guidance gives health practitioners greater flexibility to openly discuss vaccination and allows offers of reward to be made to those fully vaccinated under the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

Here are some key points that the statement helps to clarify:

  • All promotion of COVID-19 vaccines must comply with the TGA’s guidance, including where health practitioners and regulated health service providers offer rewards for COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Where promotion of COVID-19 vaccines involves advertising of regulated health services it must comply with both the TGA’s guidance and advertising requirements of the National Law, as explained in the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service.
  • The TGA’s guidance and the advertising requirements of the National Law do not apply to information about COVID-19 vaccines provided as part of a consultation or treatment.

When communicating about COVID-19 vaccines, be mindful of your professional obligations under the Board’s Code of conduct. All National Boards have issued a position statement to provide further guidance about how the Boards’ codes of conduct apply to COVID-19 vaccination.

The TGA, Ahpra and the Board support vaccination as a crucial part of the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many health practitioners have a vital role in COVID-19 vaccination programs and in educating the public about the importance and safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

More information

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Pandemic sub-register extended

Ahpra and National Boards have extended the support available from retired nurses, doctors and other registered health practitioners on the pandemic response sub-register for a further 12 months from early April. This was done in response to a request by the Australian Government.

The decision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners, medical practitioners, nurses, midwives, and pharmacists to remain on the sub-register was made to provide additional support for the COVID-19 vaccination program.

The sub-register has been extended for eligible practitioners who will have limited scope until 5 April 2022. Practitioners on the extended sub-register can only practise to support the vaccination rollout.

For further details, read the news item.

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Improvements made to notifier confidentiality safeguards

All improvements recommended in the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman’s (NHPO) Review of confidentiality safeguards for people making notifications about health practitioners have now been implemented or are underway.

The review found that Ahpra’s management of confidential and anonymous notifications offered reasonable safeguards for notifiers and was consistent with the practices of other regulators globally.

The NHPO recommendations to strengthen Ahpra’s policies, guidance, communications and systems to further mitigate risk of harm to notifiers have now been implemented. These include:

  • updating relevant policies to reflect that possible confidentiality safeguards for the notifier will be considered when assessing each new notification
  • publishing an updated privacy policy and collection statement to clarify how personal information will be used and disclosed, and
  • providing new guidance to staff about how to safeguard confidentiality, including in relation to redacting a notifier’s information and sharing a notifier’s information with the relevant practitioner.

As part of this work, we also recognised the importance of procedural fairness for practitioners. Following consultation with professional associations and professional indemnity providers, we have published a new guide for staff to help them manage complaints which may have insufficient detail to allow practitioners to respond meaningfully.

We have also published a vexatious notifications framework and introduced new training for staff in how to identify and manage vexatious complaints.

For more information, read the news item.

Check out the latest podcasts

Ahpra hosts conversations and interviews with people in our community. We discuss current issues, address myths and common questions, and think about what we can do to best protect the public and support the safe provision of healthcare in Australia.

The Taking care podcast series offers professional and consumer perspectives on current issues and answers some frequently asked questions about public safety in healthcare. Ahpra releases a new Taking care episode fortnightly.

Download and listen to the latest Taking care episode today. You can also listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking care’ in your podcast player.

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Keep in touch with the Board

As always, we encourage you to regularly check the Dental Board website for information and updates relating to the dental profession.

  • Visit our website for information on the National Scheme and the mandatory registration standards, codes, guidelines, policies and fact sheets. Board consultation papers are published on the site under News.
  • Lodge an online enquiry form.
  • For registration enquiries call 1300 419 495 (from within Australia) or +61 3 9285 3010 (for overseas callers).
  • Address mail correspondence to: Executive Officer, Dental Board of Australia, GPO Box 9958, Melbourne VIC 3001.

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Page reviewed 30/11/2023