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More than 26,000 practitioners on the pandemic response sub-register will now be able to practise in any area that supports the COVID-19 response, instead of just the vaccination rollout, following changes made by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and National Boards.

The short-term pandemic response sub-register was established in April 2020 to help fast-track the return of health practitioners such as nurses, midwives, doctors and pharmacists to the workforce for the next 12 months to support the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. The sub-register, which has 26,943 practitioners, was extended for a further year as it was due to expire earlier this year.

Under the new criteria, nurses, midwives, medical practitioners, pharmacists and Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islander Health Practitioners on the sub-register will now be able to practise in any area that supports the COVID-19 response. Ahpra and National Boards have expanded their temporary registration to allow for ‘practice for the COVID-19 response’, rather than being limited to the initial criteria of ‘COVID-19 vaccination rollout’.

As well as continuing to support the ramped up administering of vaccines across the country, practitioners on the sub-register will now be able to assist with clinical and non-clinical roles directly related to the COVID-19 response, including employment and practice as part of a surge workforce or temporary backfill positions due to outbreak management or furloughing of other health workers.

Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher said Australia’s COVID-19 threat had changed significantly since the short-term pandemic response sub-register was extended back in April this year, with the healthcare system experiencing increasing demands due to outbreaks of the Delta variant.

“We are responding to requests from governments for more registered health practitioners while also ensuring that patient safety remains an important focus,” Mr Fletcher said.

Ahpra is also reviewing other ways it can support Australia’s healthcare system to manage the effects of COVID-19, he added. This could include adding an additional group of eligible practitioners from a range of professions to the sub-register to further increase the surge health workforce.

“Health practitioners in many parts of Australia are doing exceptional work in very challenging times. Practitioners on the pandemic response sub-register are needed now more than at any other time,” Mr Fletcher said.

The changes will be reflected on the national register of practitioners, with the notation on the practitioners’ registration changed today to: ‘Registered on pandemic response sub-register. Limited to practice for the COVID-19 response.’ All practitioners on the sub-register will be notified of the change.

Practitioners do not have to do anything to remain on the sub-register, Ahpra says, but it is expected that they be available to practise if contacted about employment opportunities.

Importantly, there is no obligation for practitioners to practise or remain on the sub-register. Those who want their name removed must opt out.

For more information on the updated pandemic response sub-register for practitioners click here