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Third Statement from National Boards and Ahpra

03 Apr 2020

As we continue to face the biggest 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 are caring for sick and frightened patients and clients, some will face their own illness and need to care for families and loved ones. Some will be called on to work in unfamiliar situations where our knowledge and experience are needed most.

Professional judgement will be critical to guide us when resources are limited and demand is intense.

The Board and Ahpra understand that the current national emergency presents extreme challenges and we sincerely thank you for your commitment and the care you provide. We know our regulatory approach must be modified to accommodate these exceptional circumstances.

The Board has already started to make a series of pragmatic decisions by temporarily modifying some of our regulatory requirements while maintaining client 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.

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, recognising these are unique and challenging circumstances.

We must care for our clients, ourselves and each other. In providing care the Board does not expect you to place yourself in harm’s way. Ensuring you follow public health advice is key to this.

The Board is aware some health services will be reduced or stopped, including where care cannot be provided in ways that ensure both the practitioner’s and the patient’s safety.

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 manage this actively, such as by discussing it with your colleagues, employer or place of work.

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

Continuing professional development

We encourage you to continue to do CPD that is relevant to your scope of practice. However, we understand that you may have difficulty meeting CPD requirements this year as a result of withdrawn/denied leave requests, conference cancellations and the re-prioritisation necessary to meet workforce needs.

The Board strongly encourages you to maintain peer supervision in this time of immense change and demand. Self-reflection in the form of supervision is the cornerstone of the psychology profession. The CPD standard is flexible in requiring a minimum of 30 hours per year of which 10 hours must be supervision. The remaining 20 hours are recommended as 'active' learning; however, any development opportunity that assists your practice as a psychologist is allowable.

As you reflect on the ways you need to change your practice in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we ask you to consider what CPD is required in order to ensure your ongoing safe practice. For example, if you are consulting with clients via telehealth for the first time, you might like to consider taking an online course, reading up on best practice, ensuring you are compliant with relevant legislation, or seeking peer supervision from a colleague or expert in telehealth.

If you genuinely cannot meet the CPD standard because of the COVID-19 emergency, you should declare this at renewal of registration. We won't take any action for the registration period during which the COVID-19 emergency is in force.

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

Board-approved supervisor training

Board-approved superisors can temporarily meet the Board's refresher training requirements online. Until 31 December 2020, the Board is allowing all supervisors to complete video conference master classes (usually reserved for rural/remote supervisors only).

As set out in the Guidelines for supervisors, if you cannot complete a master class before your supervisor expiry date due to exceptional circumstances, including as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can request an extension via the web enquiry form.

As with CPD requirements, supervisors who are able to do so are strongly encouraged to participate in an online master class during 2020. Supervisors will face additional challenges this year as psychology services and supervision sessions move online. Peer supervision and supervision of supervisors will also be particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Completing a supervisor master class is an opportunity to reflect on and refine your skills in these various supervisor roles and to connect with other supervisors.

The Board is working with training providers to explore the possibility of temporarily moving full training for new supervisors to online delivery. We will provide further updates on this soon.

National psychology exam

The next sitting of the national psychology exam is scheduled for May 2020.

We want to support candidate’s capacity to complete their requirements for general registration in a timely manner while minimising non-essential domestic travel and face-to-face interactions at test centres. For these reasons, we are currently exploring arrangements for candidates to sit the exam online, at your home or office, rather than at a test centre.

While the Board is formalising arrangements for the May exam, new registrations for the exam have been temporarily suspended.

We encourage candidates who are planning to register, or have already registered, for the May exam to maintain your study program and to continue preparing to sit the exam. Further announcements about the May exam will be released soon.

4+2 and 5+1 internships

We are aware that provisional psychologists may encounter some additional challenges in meeting the requirements of their internships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is important for interns and their supervisors to be aware of the flexibilities that are already in place in the requirements for internships. Please make sure you are using the latest version of the Guidelines for the 4+2 internship program and the Guidelines for the 5+1 internship program.

These flexibilities include the ability to: provide services via telehealth; do supervision by phone or videoconference; alter the frequency and duration of supervision as needed; video-record your work for direct observation by your supervisor; do professional development online; work part-time; and take up to 12 months leave without penalty to your internship through the extended leave provisions.

It is important to remember that you have five years to complete the one-year (5+1) or two-year (4+2) internship. If you are close to the five-year mark and need longer to finish the requirements you can request an extension when you submit your registration renewal.

The Board is currently considering additional flexibilities for the internship during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure interns can continue with their professional training while still maintaining client safety. These additional flexibilities will be published on our website soon.

If you are a higher degree student doing a placement as part of your studies, please be aware that we are working with the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) and higher education providers to ensure that there are additional flexibilities within the accreditation framework for completion of placements that ensures both the quality of education and the wellbeing of staff, students and clients.

Online upload for documents

Ahpra has introduced an online upload service to receive applications, forms and supporting documents as part of the response to the way individuals are registered in the context of COVID-19.

This means applicants and registrants can submit their applications, forms and supporting documents to Ahpra online instead of sending hardcopy documents to Ahpra in the mail.

Certified copies of documents are still required as indicated on forms.

To upload documents or for more information go to the Online upload page.

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 of 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 being directed by health departments to focus on practitioners who are part of the so-called ‘surge workforce’ responding directly to the immediate demands of the pandemic and will be expanded in line with their requirements over time.

The Board and Ahpra will provide regular updates on our website and via email as the situation develops and we respond.

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