AFOEM – 3 April 2020

A message from your President: COVID-19  

The world has changed overnight. No longer is it business as usual. Our vocabulary has expanded to include terms such as ‘social distancing’, ‘social isolation’, ‘flattening the curve’.  The pandemic and the resultant worldwide human distress and havoc it creates has been likened to a war. A war on an invisible enemy.   

Many of us have not experienced such a loss of control, of fear and anxiety borne out of conflicting messages, information overload, confusion, fear for family and personal health and economic uncertainty. 

AFOEM is working hard to support our members during the pandemic. Your colleagues who sit on federal and state committees are devoting extra time to advocate, to develop policy and write guiding principles and position statements on your behalf.  

Dr Warren Harrex, President-elect, is AFOEM’s representative on the RACP COVID-19 Expert Clinical Reference group. 

I want to bring to your attention the work done, in a very short time, by the Faculty Policy & Advocacy Committee with external Fellow input on an AFOEM ‘Guide for Occupational Physicians advising workplaces on COVID-19’. This was emailed to you on 25 March 2020 and is available on our website. It provides a template of guiding principles that are applicable to workplaces both small and large. 

Concerns were raised by our members about the advisability of doing spirometry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further to discussions with the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ), they have recommended the suspension of lung function testing.

As I write this post (one week before publication) a team of Fellows is in the process of developing a position statement on COVID-19 and pregnant workers in the healthcare industry.

I am saddened by the disruption COVID-19 is having on our trainees' ability to progress through training because of the cancellation of the Annual Training Meeting (ATM) and RACP Congress 2020, which is the forum for the Ramazzini presentations, and examinations.

The College has set up an Examinations Advisory Group and an Accreditation and Training Operations Advisory Group. The Chair of the AFOEM Education Committee Dr Alison Drewry and the Chair of the AFOEM Training Committee Dr Armand Casolin are on the Accreditation and Training Operations Advisory Group, looking at the concerns of trainees and providing guidance on how to progress during this difficult time.

This is a time for adaptability, flexibility and innovative thinking; in the way we work and interact with others on a professional, organisational, committee and personal level.  

How do we cope under these unprecedented pressures? The RACP President’s post provided some common sense strategies. It is important to maintain communication and connection with family, loved ones and colleagues, to look after yourself in regard to diet, sleep and exercise, to have a routine, to know where to go for support and not to give up hope.  

Kindness was a theme for Congress 2020. Today each time I turn on the news there is another example of kindness, such as people donating essential goods to the vulnerable members in our society, cafes providing free meals for healthcare workers, and the offer of jobs to those who have lost their jobs. There is no better time than now to show kindness to each other, to ourselves and to our community.  

I extend my heartfelt thanks to the hard-working members of AFOEM Council, Faculty Policy & Advocacy Committee, Faculty Education Committee, Faculty Training Committee and regional committees for the extra hours you are putting in during this crisis.

Staff update

AFOEM Executive Officer, Megan (Meg) Chard’s last day with us was on Friday, 27 March 2020; she has taken up another position within the College. Although Meg was only with us a short time she quickly acquainted herself with the people, projects, and ideals of our Faculty.  On behalf of the Faculty and myself I extend our thanks to Meg for all her hard work and support and wish her every success for the future. In the meantime, 'virtual' recruitment is underway and Faculties Manager, Joanne Goldrick is continuing maintain support for our Faculty. 

I wish you all to stay well and safe.

Best wishes

Dr Beata Byok
AFOEM President

Update on postponed exams

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold we have had to consider all 2020 examinations.
Finding solutions to the impact of postponed exams has been a priority for the College to support trainees to continue progressing through their training and into their careers as physicians. 

The COVID-19 Examinations Advisory Group which is made up of the chairs of all exam committees, and the College Education Committee have made the difficult decision to postpone most 2020 exams in light of COVID-19 and the increased demands on our health system and membership.

We are continuing to look at contingency plans for each exam and put measures in place to assist trainees through progression of training.

We will provide trainees a minimum three months’ notice of any rescheduled exam to give time for preparation.

How can social media support us during social distancing? A trainee perspective

During this period of time when there is much uncertainty, anxiety levels are bound to be high. While some are busier than ever, there will be times when our work will be quiet and there may be time for thought and reflection.

One thing I have found immensely supportive during this time is connections with friends and colleagues. I have found support through hearing how others are managing their situations via channels like the RACP trainee network on Facebook, and the trainee network on WhatsApp. New friends have reached out and unexpectedly, phoned me when I was recently unwell. A heart felt support and kindness which was beautiful to receive.  

Colleagues have come together from all over Australia and New Zealand. There is a sense of belonging, support and community. Something which I feel is essential during a crisis.

I have also been able to stay in touch with old colleagues from the UK who are in the throes of their battle. It has been insightful to see the discussions, which were not always clinical but very practical.  Some asked: do I go into work if my child has a fever, or do I stay home? Others shared ideas of how to self-isolate, and what they are doing about school, shopping and elderly relatives. Many are concerned with how we educate our local community when the public messages are confusing. There has even been a 'adopt a doc' group set up. This facilitates help for those in the hospital with food drops, childcare and even help with the dreaded toilet roll saga.

For the most part, the social media platforms have been a resource for sharing information and raising concerns in a safe environment. New friendship has been forged, support given, and of course quite a lot of light humour and memes are shared. It is not without fault and like any group discussion there may be some who don’t see eye to eye. But for the most part I think it has been good. The trainee network on WhatsApp is opt in and if you’d like to join, please get in touch.

While an essentially positive experience, I have also reflected on my requirement to have a weekend of 'social media distancing'. It is important to recognise that with the constant news cycle from TV, newspapers, your PC home page, household talk and then social media, boundaries are needed. I have found I need some quiet brain time.

I currently work in an occupational medicine clinic. Like others, we will likely convert to a period of injury management using Telehealth. 

My children have recently been home schooled. They have enjoyed this, making up science experiments with vinegar and baking powder and anything else they can find in the cupboard. I am sure they will cherish this memory and period of time with Grandad, who is currently staying with us. 

My husband is an anaesthetist and is working in a hospital where they have had their first two cases of Covid-19. There are still so many uncertainties impacting his working life. For example, there are a few different techniques to donning and doffing PPE kit. Some of the discussions we have had this week have included how long do the P2 masks really work for? What is the medico transmission risk and risk of asymptomatic carriage? Where can we isolate him? There are a lot of opinions on things, but there are also a lot of unknowns. 

By his account, people are pulling together and supporting each other in hospitals. He said that his department has been on full throttle organising ideas for theatres. Some departments have builders planning for the removal of carpets and making space for extra patients. His CEO has been sending emails of support and encouragement almost daily. Overall, despite working longer hours and the anticipation of inevitable rolling shift pattern, he looks very happy and satisfied. This to me reflects the impact a crisis can often have in a society. Bringing a group together.

It feels very surreal at the moment. As I write this a colleague has just messaged to say they are in lock down. Despite feeling frightened, I have faith that when faced with a crisis community spirit can flourish with kindness and we will help each other through.

Dr Amy Bright
AFOEM Council Trainee Representative

Guide for occupational physicians advising workplaces on COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic that commenced in China in November 2019 and was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 3 March 2020 is expected to cause unprecedented disruption to health services, businesses and society for at least the next few months. 

There is significant risk of contracting and spreading infection in the workplace. Specialist occupational and environmental physicians have particular expertise and interest in promoting and protecting the health and wellbeing of workers. Together we can work to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the Australian and Aotearoa New Zealand community. 

Many large organisations and businesses already have access to health advice on managing business continuity during this pandemic. However, there may be a large number of small to medium enterprises and not-for-profit organisations, as well as general practitioners or other health professionals, who may seek advice from occupational physicians. 

It is essential that health advice is only obtained from official sources such as those listed in our new guidance document. In Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, this advice is being coordinated respectively by the Australian Government Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy and by the Aotearoa New Zealand Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Their latest advice can be accessed via the Australian Government of Health website and the Aotearoa New Zealand Ministry of Health website

The RACP strongly values and supports the work led by Professor Murphy and Dr Bloomfield coordinating their countries’ comprehensive health response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The RACP would also like to acknowledge the significant work of chief health and medical officers and their teams in jurisdictions around Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand in contributing to the pandemic response.

Please note the guidance issued by the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science (ANZSRS) recommending suspension of lung function testing.

RACP Congress update

The RACP has made the decision to cancel RACP Congress 2020 and postpone the Convocation Ceremony, which were scheduled for May 2020.

These difficult decisions were not taken lightly. Considering the global repercussions of COVID-19, as physicians it is our responsibility to put the safety of our members and the community we serve above all else.

Presenters will be offered the option to present at RACP Congress 2021 being held in Brisbane on Wednesday, 28 April to Saturday, 1 May 2021.

We are currently looking at alternative options for delivering the Congress 2020 program and will provide an update on this as soon as we are able.

Further information is available at the Congress website. Any enquiries can be directed to racpcongress@racp.edu.au.

New education and training principles 

A new set of education and training principles have been developed to guide the College’s decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide our position on potential impacts to training. 

This includes decisions about the impacts of training time and progression through training as a result of exam changes and cancellation of training events.

Our new COVID-19 Training and Accreditation Advisory Group is discussing these issues and will advise on key decisions. The committee recommendations will be provided to the CEC and we will endeavour to let you know the outcomes as soon as possible.

The new COVID-19 Exams Advisory Group is also discussing contingency planning for all postponed exams. 

Queensland Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register update

The Queensland Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register (the Register) has been fully operational since 1 July 2019. Queensland Health is encouraged by the efforts of respiratory and occupational medicine specialists in making notifications of notifiable dust lung disease to the Register, as required by the Public Health Act 2005, which enables the Register to fulfill its functions.   

One of these functions is to provide a report to the Queensland Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services. The first report of the Register will be provided to the Minister by 30 September 2020. The Minister will table the report in Parliament shortly after receiving it. Among other things, the report must include the number of notifications and types of notifiable dust lung diseases recorded in the Register from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020. Register staff will ensure that all notifications received by 30 June 2020 are included in the report.  

The approved form to make a notification of a notifiable dust lung disease will be updated on 1 July 2020, so it is important to continue to check the Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register website for updates.

Advise on the OHS Body of Knowledge

The OHS Body of Knowledge (OHS BoK) was developed in response to an identified need to define the collective knowledge that should be shared by Australian Generalist OHS Professionals as a basis for understanding the causation and control of work-related fatality, injury, disease and ill-health. 

New chapter topics are continually being identified and developed alongside the review of existing chapters as resources allow. Currently, the OHS BoK is looking for medical professionals in occupational medicine to advise on 'The human as a biological system' and 'Biological hazards' chapters and AFOEM encourages trainees and Fellows to contribute. If you would like to get involved the OHS BoK’s development and review, visit the OSH BoK webpage.

The RACP’s 2020-2021 Pre-Budget Submission

More needs to be done to address the joint needs of investment in prevention and deep-seated health reform to better connect the Australian health system and address identifiable gaps in care. The College calls for the 2020-2021 Federal Budget to look longer term.

Access the College’s 2020-2021 Pre-Budget Submission, which addresses the need for:

  • prevention strategies on obesity and alcohol-related harm
  • early intervention in mental and physical health of infants and children
  • calls for more integrated approaches to care and for fundamental reform of the aged care system.

Learn more

Stage 5 Australian telehealth items 

The College has been working closely with the Department of Health advocating to expand the current list of COVID-19 phone and/or telehealth services available for patients for specialist services on the Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS). This is Stage 5 of the critical work of transforming the MBS to support Australians impacted by COVID-19. The College has been consulting with all specialty societies and the Divisions and Faculties to ensure that all remaining relevant and appropriate specialist and consultant physician and paediatrician items are given telehealth and telephone equivalent attendance items. 

Request for input from members: College submission to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability

Disability and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been a key ongoing policy priority for the College and the broader health sector. The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the DRC) was established in April 2019 in response to community concern about widespread reports of violence against, and the neglect, abuse and exploitation of, people with disability.

The DRC’s terms of reference cover what should be done in all settings such as the home, schools, out-of-home care, the justice system, as well as in the disability support system to:

  • prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • achieve best-practice in reporting and investigating of, and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The DRC has released four issues papers to date: education and learninggroup homescriminal justice system and healthcare for people with cognitive disability

Our Policy & Advocacy team has developed a draft submission which covers a range of areas that the DRC is interested in and that the College has a position on. 

You are encouraged to provide feedback, with particular regard to the sections where it is noted that there are no College positions yet. Please provide feedback to Rebecca Randall, Senior Policy & Advocacy Officer, via RACPConsult@racp.edu.au by close of business Friday, 24 April 2020. We look forward to receiving your valuable feedback. 

Concerns over increased alcohol use in the time of COVID-19

The World Health Organization has warned that alcohol is an ‘unhelpful coping strategy’ for the stress and isolation of COVID-19 lockdown. Professor Michael Farrell of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre says there is little doubt alcohol consumption will increase in this “time of great social anxiety and stress", especially among vulnerable people. 

Commonwealth Bank of Australia data shows alcohol sales have risen by 20.4 per cent compared to this time last year. Amid reported panic buying and stockpiling of alcohol, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation has expressed fears of increased domestic violence, accidents and injuries.

Trauma surgeons have warned that the availability of alcohol during the crisis, including via online sales and delivery, is likely to see an increase in the number of victims of domestic violence attending emergency departments. Chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Trauma Committee John Crozier said emergency departments in Sydney and Newcastle were already dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

In addition to an increase in accidental and domestic violence-related injuries, increased consumption of alcohol will likely result in a raise in acute hospital presentations for cardiovascular disease, stroke and depression, putting even more pressure on Australia’s overextended health system.

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan stepped in to mitigate these potential harms by placing limits on takeaway alcohol. The restrictions are designed to assist with the state’s COVID-19 response.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education CEO Caterina Giorgi says leaders must be able deal with an unfolding crisis while acting to prevent future harm. “It would be an even greater tragedy if the fallout from COVID-19 was made far worse through a significant escalation of alcohol-fuelled harm in our community.”

RACP-supported restrictions on the trading hours for alcohol are especially needed in such times of an expanding physical and mental health crisis like COVID-19. 

RACP’s Model of Chronic Care Management featured at IHCRC 2020

On 27 March, Co-Chair of the Integrated Care Working Group Dr Nick Buckmaster featured at the International Health Care Reform Virtual Conference presenting on complex subacute care and the RACP’s Model of Chronic Care Management.

Dr Buckmaster described how the healthcare system could be re-oriented away from episodic care bringing services together for the patient, and incorporating care plans linking care across sectors towards a more integrated approach. In practice, what this means is that a patient is supported and rehabilitated by a team, including a coordinator, a generalist specialist, GP and other key clinicians, such as other specialists and allied healthcare.

RACP awards, medals and grants

Details of awards, grants and scholarships are available on the RACP Foundation website.

COVID-19 information for people affected by cancer 

Cancer Australia has launched a dedicated hub providing coronavirus (COVID-19) information for people with cancer, health professionals and researchers.

People with compromised immune systems or pre-existing medical conditions, including cancer, may be at increased risk of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19) and increased risk of more severe infection.

The website features information for people affected by cancer and a repository of up-to-date, evidence-based resources and guidance from some of the most trusted sources in Australia and around the world for people affected by cancer, health professionals and researchers in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

For more information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and cancer treatment, visit the hub.   

New Pomegranate podcast: Ep56: Billing in Byzantium

Australia has one of the best-value health systems in the world, but also some of the most complicated health regulation. Amongst the Medicare scheme, the state hospitals, the private health insurers and the patient, it’s not always clear how a provider should invoice their services.

To explain some of the fundamentals, this podcast features a former nurse and lawyer, Margaret Faux, CEO of Synapse Global Medical Administration. Faux describes areas of ambiguity in the legislation and the Medical Benefits Schedule which create confusion as to when and where certain services can be billed, or which items should not be claimed together. While there are many traps for well-intentioned providers and loopholes for the less well-intentioned, there are some simple solutions that would make medical billing much more streamlined. 

Guest: Margaret Faux (CEO, Synapse Global Medical Administration).

Fellows of the RACP can claim CPD credits via MyCPD for listening to this episode and reading the resources.

Subscribe to Pomegranate Health in Apple iTunesSpotify or any Android podcasting app.

Listen to podcast

My Health Record webinar – Getting started

My Health Record is a secure online summary of an individual's health information available to all Australians. Healthcare providers authorised by their organisation can access My Health Record to view and add to their patients' health information. Understanding how to register and upload to My Health Record can be challenging. 

Watch Professor Steven Boyages' interview of Carey Doolan from the Australian Digital Health Agency, where they explore and provide practical advice to help you register and upload to My Health Record.

View webinar

New online course: Working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

Learn how to work more sensitively and effectively with migrant, refugee and asylum seeker patients in this new online course.

The course provides relevant facts and practical strategies for developing good cross-cultural communication and facilitating easier navigation of the healthcare system. The course includes the perspectives and stories of a diverse range of individuals to provide the full picture.

Accessible anywhere and optimised for mobile on-the-go learning, RACP Online Learning Resources are free for members and count towards Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements.

Access the course

The Good Guys Commercial through Member Advantage

As we are all trying to adjust to this new way of the world, The Good Guys Commercial are committed to take care of your needs in the best possible way during this time.

Whether it is a laptop or monitor to assist with new working from home arrangements, a microwave or small appliance for preparing healthy meals, a fridge, a washer or any other white goods – they can help with what you need and deliver to your door in the current and ever changing environment.

The team are operating as normal, and members will continue to be supported by TGG Commercial Sales Support Centre who are available to assist with any enquiries – Phone 1300 22 55 64 or Email  memberadvantage@thegoodguys.com.au

Visit your RACP Member Advantage website today to register for this benefit.

*Terms and conditions apply.

Conferences and events

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians publishes notices of events and courses as a service to members. Such publication does not constitute endorsement or mandating of any such events or courses. 

Supervisor Professional Development Program (SPDP) workshops

General information webpage provides an overview of our three SPDP workshops.
Online workshops webpage provides dates and information on how to register for the online SPDP workshops.
Face-to-face workshops provides a list of dates and registering for the face to face workshops.

Go to the events list at any time to see what other events are coming up.

Expressions of Interest  

Check the Expressions of Interest page at any time, to find out if there are any opportunities that are of benefit to you. 

Career opportunities

For other career opportunities, view all positions vacant page on the RACP website.

AFOEM contact details

Member enquiries
Phone: 
(AUS) 1300 69 7227
Phone: 
(NZ) 0508 69 7227
Email: 
memberservices@racp.edu.au 

AFOEM Faculty enquiries (including Council and committees):

AFOEM Executive Officer
Phone: +61 2 9256 5426
Email: afoem@racp.edu.au

AFOEM Health Benefits of Good Work (HBGW) enquiries:
Email: HBGW@racp.edu.au

AFOEM Education and Training enquiries:
Email: occenvmed@racp.edu.au

AFOEM Examination enquiries:
Examination Coordinator, Assessment and Selection Unit
Email: faculty.examinations@racp.edu.au

AFOEM training site accreditation inquiries:
Site Accreditation Unit
Email: accreditation@racp.edu.au

AFOEM CPD enquiries:
Email: mycpd@racp.edu.au
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