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Pharmacy Board responses to COVID-19 pandemic

03 Apr 2020

COVID-19 is posing unprecedented challenges to the health system and wider community in Australia. Meeting these challenges requires an unwavering commitment across the health sector to shared goals, new levels of collaboration and flexibility.

In this, all health sector agencies have both responsibilities and accountabilities. As regulators, the Pharmacy Board of Australia and Ahpra must balance public safety with the need to enable governments, hospitals and practitioners providing front-line care to sick and vulnerable patients to do what is needed to respond to COVID-19.

Public safety remains the primary focus of the Pharmacy Board of Australia. However, a national emergency requires pharmacists to meet extreme challenges, which Australia’s regulatory approach must accommodate.

While maintaining standards to keep the public safe, we are introducing new policies that will get more front-line practitioners into the health system, increase employer flexibility and cut red tape. The changes reflect the Board’s existing policy and standards framework and recognise the unprecedented new environment in which pharmacists are now practising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board has agreed to the following measures. We are closely monitoring the situation and may make further changes as needed.

1. Continuing professional development

The COVID-19 emergency is impacting on registered health practitioners’ CPD in various ways, including where CPD events or leave are cancelled. The Board encourages practitioners to continue CPD relevant to their practice where possible. In responding to the needs of the public during this emergency, pharmacists are likely to encounter issues that require investigation, research and learning and these efforts can be documented for inclusion in CPD records. Further information about recording CPD activities is outlined in the Board’s Guidelines on continuing professional development.

We do not want CPD requirements to take practitioners away from clinical care or cause additional concerns to practitioners already under extra pressure due to COVID-19. Accordingly, if a pharmacist can't meet the CPD standard because of the COVID-19 emergency, then we won't take any action for the registration period during which the COVID-19 emergency is in force; there will be no need to apply for an exemption.

However, if the COVID-19 emergency resolves more quickly than expected, we may issue updated guidance about what CPD the Board would expect to be completed within the current registration period.

2. Requirements for interns and impacts on student clinical training

The Board will conduct urgent meetings this week with the Australian Pharmacy Council (which accredits undergraduate pharmacy programs and intern training programs) and the Council of Pharmacy Schools to identify impacts on students and interns and to identify suitable measures to support them to meet learning outcomes during COVID-19.

The Board understands that students, interns, pharmacy program providers, clinical training providers and employers are awaiting further information and assurances during this challenging period and the Board will provide further updates as soon as possible.

Employers of interns must continue to ensure appropriate supervision and provide interns, as much as possible, with meaningful educational clinical experiences and teaching, as well as support during what will be a challenging and difficult time.

The Board recognises that much education is likely to be ‘on the job’ and that this pandemic will expose interns to unique clinical experiences.

For interns who may be required by employers to not attend the workplace for a period of time, the Board has published advice on 19 March 2020 on the Ahpra website COVID-19 webpage about options for pharmacy interns to complete their supervised practice hours if modifications are needed.

3. Registration examinations

As advised in our March 2020 newsletter to pharmacists, the Board, in collaboration with APC and Ahpra, is continually assessing the public health risks of COVID-19 and the potential impact on the Board’s written and oral examinations during 2020. Our first priority is the safety of everyone involved; candidates, examiners and staff.

Our current focus is on the written and oral examinations that are scheduled to take place before 30 June 2020. The Board, APC and Ahpra will advise enrolled candidates and interns intending to apply to sit these examinations as soon as possible if there are any new arrangements or changes.

Any potential impacts on written and oral examinations scheduled between July and December 2020 will be informed by further developments in COVID-19 and will be determined and advised later in 2020.

Further work

Alternative approaches to demonstrating English language proficiency

The Boards and Ahpra are aware that practitioners may have difficulty demonstrating English language proficiency because of the current disruption to English language testing.

We are developing alternative approaches to demonstrating English language proficiency that we will publish on our website.

Return to practice for recently retired practitioners

National Boards are working with Ahpra to streamline the return to work process for practitioners who have been off the Register of practitioners or who have held non-practising registration for less than three years. This is in response to requests from Health Ministers, who have asked us to enable experienced and qualified former health practitioners to quickly return to practice to help health services prepare for the expected surge in demand resulting from COVID-19.

A pandemic response sub-register will enable doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists who previously held general or specialist registration and left the Register of practitioners or moved to non-practising registration in the past three years to return to practice. Only those who are properly qualified, competent and suitable will be returned to the register.

Further information is available on the Board’s website.

COVID-19 health workforce

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.

Page reviewed 3/04/2020