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Agency under scrutiny

A Senate inquiry will investigate the competence and resourcing of AHPRA.

In two months time almost every nurse and midwife in Australia will be required to renew their registration if they want to be able to continue practicing.

But unless the well-known problems the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency has had in processing registrations are fixed, there are concerns the agency won't be able to cope with the large volume.

These concerns have added to the urgency of a Senate inquiry, announced last month, that will investigate the competence and resourcing of AHPRA.

The Coalition, which moved for the inquiry, said the Senate's Finance and Public Administration References Committee would also look at the "implications of any maladministration of the registration process for Medicare benefits and private insurance claims" and the "liability for financial and economic loss incurred by health practitioners, patients and service providers resulting from any implications of the revised registration process".

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals have faced massive delays in renewing their registration.

Some have been de-registered and had to stop treating patients. Others treated patients while de-registered, despite all the problems this could pose including patients being denied Medicare rebates.

Since beginning operation, Nursing Review has received many comments from its readers on the national agency. The overwhelming majority has been negative.

One nurse wrote, that four months after making a complaint, he still hadn't received a response from AHPRA.

"This has caused considerable stress to myself and my family. It is a poor reflection on our profession," he said.

Admitting there have been some start-up issues as a result of the pace and scope of the change, AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher, said the agency would cooperate with the inquiry.

"On any measure, the transition to national registration was a significant undertaking. The issues have been well documented and AHPRA now has an extensive program of work underway to address these and welcomes the opportunity to help the Senate understand these," Fletcher said.

More than 344,000 health practitioners have renewed their registration with the agency since July 1, 2010 and more than 31,500 health practitioners have registered for the first time and are now delivering health services throughout Australia.

The National Scheme involves significant change for all practitioners, who must now meet new registration standards set by National Boards and endorsed by Ministerial Council. New processes and systems have been established to support these additional requirements.

"AHPRA is firmly focused on ensuring these systems work effectively, that information is clear and accessible and helping practitioners in the health professions understand and meet their new responsibilities," Fletcher said.

"The national scheme has patient safety at its heart and our clear target is to realise the potential of the scheme to benefit the Australian community."

The inquiry is to report by May 13.

New English standard
The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia has confirmed that the current English language skills registration standard remains in place pending the outcome of an extensive consultation process.
The board has analysed more than 280 submissions received during the consultation process that closed on 14 January 2011. The consultation process provided feedback to the Board on potential changes to the standard.

The Board is now considering a final draft of the standard, developed as a result of the feedback provided.

Board Chair, Anne Copeland, said the timeframe for the introduction of the new standard depended on a number of factors including the approval requirements, development of an implementation plan and/or any transitional arrangements from the existing standard to a new registration standard.

"Under the National Law, the final standard approved by the Board must be considered - and approved - by the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council (AHWMC) before it can be implemented," Copeland said.

"However, I can assure applicants for registration and current students that the Board is finalising the revised standard as an absolute priority and is working closely with AHWMC to make sure this is progressed as efficiently as possible," Copeland said.

Should AHWMC approve the revised standard, she said there will be a smooth transition from the current to the new standard. It will be supported by detailed operating protocols to ensure consistent application of the new standard across all AHPRA offices and clear information on the Board website.

"In the meantime, the current standard remains in place and should guide all prospective applicants seeking registration as a nurse or midwife in Australia."

The board will update all stakeholders on the progress of its review of the current English Language Skills Standard as soon as new information is available. The Board will also publish all submissions received about the proposed English language skills standard on website in due course.

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