How the College is supporting you

Date published:
26 Mar 2020

Dear members,

As COVID-19 infection rates increase in both nations, I am conscious that many of you will be feeling like you are facing a huge storm that is beginning to hit both our countries.

You will likely be fearful and be mentally bracing yourself for what you know you will see, and indeed may already be seeing.

The images from overseas of acute patient respiratory distress in overloaded healthcare settings are very worrying.

Pictures of rapid mobilisation of emergency acute facilities and shortages of PPE and ventilators only underline the gravity of this pandemic.

During such extraordinary times, fear and worry are entirely understandable.

Draw on the support of your team colleagues as you work, and your loved ones in the rare instances you have downtime. I’ve relinked to my earlier message about first principles to help you cope.

They are critical.

Your mental and physical health is imperative to ensure you are able to continue to function under the unprecedented workload and conditions we are all now facing.

Also, don’t underestimate the additional cognitive load placed on you by community panic, abnormal restrictions on movement and broader worry about severe economic effects.

The coming weeks and months will test the capacity of all of us and we continue to do everything we can to support you.

We are campaigning to ensure specialists have access to Personal Protective Equipment

The RACP is acutely aware of your concerns about lack of PPE.

We remain concerned at reports that specialists in both private practice and hospital settings are unable to access the PPE they need to perform their roles safely.

Major national media have picked up on our call to ensure that physicians and paediatricians have access to PPE.

We have continued to raise the issue with the Australian Federal Health Minister’s office and the Department of Health. The Commonwealth Government has announced that they have ordered over 300 million new masks, and are moving to ramp up local production of masks and other vital equipment.

Please continue to keep us informed of any issues you are experiencing in this regard.

We are advocating for removal of restrictions on telehealth in Australia

In Australia, the RACP is calling on the Government to expand telehealth to safely dealing with the surge of COVID-19 cases and ensuring the safety of physicians and paediatricians, as well as making sure essential specialist services continue to be available to the community.

The Government has this week announced that it would expand telehealth eligibility so that vulnerable doctors, as well as patients, can use these items.

We are working closely with the Department of Health and the Minister’s office to ensure that unnecessary restrictions on specialist and consultant physician use of telehealth are removed. Further announcements are expected later this week and early next week expanding access to telehealth, including for our members.

We’re rapidly developing 'How to' training resources for members to help them use telehealth and will publicise these once they’re ready.

We are consulting with our Specialty Societies on temporary suspension of non-urgent elective surgery in Australia

The Australian National Cabinet’s announcement on 25 March states that:

“By cancelling certain elective surgeries, the National Cabinet is acting to preserve resources including protective equipment to help prepare public and private health services to prepare for their role in the COVID-19 outbreak. 
Every patient waiting for elective surgery is assessed by their treating medical professional as Category 1, 2 or 3 per the following definitions:

  • Category 1 – Needing treatment within 30 days. Has the potential to deteriorate quickly to the point where the patient’s situation may become an emergency.
  • Category 2 – Needing treatment within 90 days. Their condition causes pain, dysfunction or disability. Unlikely to deteriorate quickly and unlikely to become an emergency.
  • Category 3 – Needing treatment at some point in the next year. Their condition causes pain, dysfunction or disability. Unlikely to deteriorate quickly.

Decisions on the category of patients are at the discretion of their treating medical professional.”

Only Category 1 and some exceptional Category 2 surgery will continue until further notice.

We are talking to our specialties about the impacts of this measure on physician practice and will ensure that this feedback is provided to governments.

With ongoing advice from experts in endoscopy and infectious disease, GESA has updated its Statement of Recommendations for all medical and nursing staff involved in endoscopic practice.

The latest version can be downloaded from GESA's website.

We have extended CPD deadlines

All Fellows with an incomplete CPD record for 2019 have been given an automatic extension until 31 July 2020. Professional Practice is currently exploring multiple options to assist Fellows including talking with both regulators in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

2020 CPD requirements for Aotearoa New Zealand Fellows
As of today, the Medical Council of New Zealand has decided to exempt all General and vocationally-registered doctors from recertification programme requirements until 28 February 2021. Similarly, doctors with general or vocational registration, who return to practice from today, will not be required to enrol in the Inpractice or College programme until that date. Council will not be auditing doctors for compliance with recertification programmes over the coming 11 months, but Council will expect doctors to be enrolled and actively participating in their required programmes from 1 March 2021.

2020 CPD requirements for Australian Fellows
We’ve asked the Medical Board of Australia for a flexible and pragmatic approach to the 2019 audit requirement and 2020 CPD requirements. We’re awaiting correspondence from the Medical Board of Australia and will inform Fellows of the Board’s direction as soon as possible.

We’re examining effects on progression through training 

Many trainees are being pulled from training to assist in acute care or are facing travel restrictions on rotations.

Trainees have been contacting us about the impact on their training and careers. Given the number of specialties we encompass, this is a very complex issue. We will update you as we gain clarity from the relevant College committees.

We have set-up two Advisory Groups – Examinations Advisory Group and an Accreditation and Training Operations Advisory Group – to enable rapid consideration of examination and training impacts. The Accreditation and Training Operations Advisory consists of the chairs of all training committees and trainee representatives and is working to clarify key progression through training concerns as well as provide guidance to all Training Committees.

A pulse survey will open this week to quickly gauge the trainee concerns and how best to keep trainees informed.

We’re talking to health Departments about annual recruitment in Australia 

The College is meeting with all Australian Health Departments to discuss the changes with rotations, the delayed clinical exams and implications for the annual junior doctor recruitment processes.

Further meetings will be held every few weeks to provide them with updates on the College’s decision-making and approach, and work together to develop workable solutions in this rapidly changing environment.

We’ve published an AFOEM guide for physicians advising workplaces on COVID-19

We’ve had feedback from AFOEM members that many employers feel there is a lack of COVID-19 guidance relating specifically to workplaces. In response, our AFOEM colleagues have moved rapidly to develop and approve a guide to address these gaps and provide links to trusted resources on COVID-19.

Although primarily aimed at occupational and environmental physicians and trainees, this information may also be useful to other health professionals and employers themselves.

Please continue to make us aware of any issues that we need to elevate to Federal or national decision-making level in both countries.

And above all, be mindful that in order to provide the best care for our patients, even in these most extreme of times we must first ensure we care for ourselves.

Associate Professor Mark Lane
RACP President

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