COVID-19 FAQs

UPDATE on COVID-19 for GP trainees—your FAQs answered

Content last updated 24/03/2020.

THE COVID-19 pandemic is impacting education and training for all GP trainees. While the scope and size of these changes are unlike any other faced by GP training previously, GPRA is here to support all GP trainees in the face of uncertainty and change.

We are here to support you:

  1. Responding as quickly as possible to your enquiries
    Contact us via enquiries@gpra.org.auWhile we are receiving a significant increase in enquiries, we are endeavouring to provide you with a response ASAP.
  1. Providing updates on our online FAQs
    Visit this page regularly for the latest on how COVID-19 is effecting GP training
  1. Sending out eNewsletters as new information is made available
    Make sure your email address current by updating your membership information.

This pandemic is a rapidly evolving landscape and the latest information, policies and procedures may change. We will keep you updated on any changes and, as always, we are here to help you over the phone and via email.


 

Are there resources on creating a safe workplace?

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GP trainees are at high risk as they usually see more “walk-ins”/acute patients[1] and more minor respiratory illnesses than other GPs. Therefore, it is imperative that you regularly revise and seek guidance on:

  • Hand hygiene
  • Correct PPE usage protocols
  • Practice workflows and protocols for managing patients presenting with suspected COVID-19 related symptoms (GPSA has developed some excellent resources to assist practice with this)

Discuss any concerns you may have with your supervisor.

[1] https://www.racgp.org.au/download/Documents/AFP/2016/May/AFP-May-Focus-BEACH.pdf

What will happen if I have to self-isolate?

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The RACGP and ACRRM have provided advice regarding leave arrangements for registrars who are required to self isolate or take leave due to recovery from COVID-19 related illness.

At present, the National Employment Standards in the Fair Work Act allow the same amount of paid personal leave to all employees regardless of whether they are in full or part-time employment.

Therefore, as a registrar employed according to the NTCER, you can access 5 days paid personal leave per six-month training if you are employed on a full-time or part-time basis.

The NTCER (cl 6.3) allows for personal leave to be provided in advance (rather than having to be accrued).

Given the unprecedented circumstances, GPRA encourages training practices employing GP registrars on a 12 month contract to allow for the annual allocation of 10 days paid personal leave to be made available, in advance, should a registrar require this leave for self-isolation.

GPRA is continuing to explore options to enable access to additional paid leave due to COVID-19 related self isolation and/or illness.

Can I make a WorkCover claim?

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Enquiries have been received regarding whether a GP trainee in self-isolation or in recovery from COVID-19 related illness could be paid through a WorkCover claim.

At present this is unclear. A key factor that would need to be addressed is being able to definitively demonstrate that the self-isolation and/or illness directly resulted from workplace-related exposure.[1]

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and wish to make a workers’ compensation claim, please refer to your state’s WorkCover agency for relevant information. 

[1] https://www.workcover.wa.gov.au/news/workers-compensation-coronavirus-covid-19/

Can I refuse to see patients with symptoms of COVID-19 or who have travelled from high-risk countries?

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MDO advice is that “it is reasonable to refuse to see patients with symptoms of COVID-19 if [your] practice cannot comply with the safety guidelines provided by the Department of Health and RACGP”[1], e.g. the use of PPE when managing patients with suspected coronavirus in a GP setting, etc. Please discuss this with your supervisor, if you have concerns.

[1] https://www.avant.org.au/Resources/Public/Coronavirus/#workplace-staff

Will the MBS fund telehealth consultations?

(31 March 2020)

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As part of the Commonwealth Government’s health package to tackle COVID-19 the new, time-limited Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item numbers for the delivery of bulk billed telephone and video consultations have been expanded as part of the fourth stage of a series of primary care measures.

The most recent update is that these new telehealth (video-conference) and phone consultation items will be available to all Australians, effectively enabling whole of population telehealth for patients, general practice, primary care and other medical services to be available from 30 March 2020 to support the response to COVID-19.

These changes will further assist GP trainees being able to undertake MBS-funded tele-health consultations.

Is there additional flexibility on the AGPT program?

(20 March)

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The Department and the Colleges have agreed that registrars training on the AGPT Program will be able to exceed their prescribed training time cap (as specified in clause 5.13 and 5.14 of the AGPT Training Obligations Policy 2019) if their training is affected by the impacts of COVID-19. 

Registrars affected by the impacts of COVID-19 will also be able to access other flexibilities of the AGPT Program Policies, including extensions of training time, leave from the AGPT program and deferral of the commencement of training. These flexibilities of the policies for impacted registrars can be approved by RTOs and do not need to come to the Department or the Colleges for approval. 

Colleges will be able to consider exceptions from the training location obligations and the ability to transfer between pathways for impacted registrars on a case-by-case basis.

In addition for registrars requiring Category 2 leave from the program due to COVID-19 this will not be counted towards their training time cap and should be granted even if registrars have exceeded the leave and extension allowances specified in the policies.

Are registrars able to change pathways in light of these COVID-19?

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It is understandable that registrars who would have completed all training requirements, but are blocked from Fellowship due to the postponement of the OSCE may have already started to make plans for life after Fellowship. This may have included a change of living location.

Colleges understand that registrars impacted by the exam postponement may be further disadvantaged in their personal lives by not being able to pursue their plans.

Colleges will be able to consider exceptions from the training location obligations and the ability to transfer between pathways for impacted registrars on a case-by-case basis.

Can registrars perform other telehealth work external to their training if they are forced to self isolate?

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With the adoption of MBS Telehealth numbers and the current lobbying to have the restrictions on these item numbers lifted, it is assumed that most registrars will have the ability to not interrupt their training due to self isolation needs as long as they feel comfortable performing Telehealth consultations.

This does require the registrar to be well enough to consult via Telehealth, i.e. if symptoms are mild or if they are self quarantining due to a positive contact, or if they are needing time off due to an immunocompromised state that puts them at increased risk from COVID19.

If a registrar needs to take category 1 leave because alternative options such as off site Telehealth cannot be provided by their practice then RACGP has stated that work whilst on this leave would be approved as long as it is in keeping with the reason for leave. This is consistent with AGPT policy on leave.

What PPE should GP trainees use when caring for persons with suspected or confirmed Coronavirus disease (COVID19)?

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The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has endorsed interim recommendations for GPs for non-inpatient care of people at risk of or with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and this clarifies when to wear surgical vs N95 masks.

When will the RACGP exams run in 2020?

(19 March 2020)

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The RACGP Board has made the very challenging decision to postpone upcoming RACGP exams in light of the evolving COVID-19 situation. This will not just affect the 2020.1 OSCE but also the 2020.2 AKT / KFP and a run on effect to the 2020.2 OSCE. With the 2020.1 OSCE and 2020.2 AKT / KFP exams all within the next four months and GPs in training under way with their studies and putting their lives on hold as a result, it was decided that an early decision and clarity of a plan for the sitting of these exams was crucial. Below, is a table outlining the proposed dates for the affected exams:

2020.1 OSCE
Original Date:
23-May-20
Revised Date:
8 November 2020
(Close Of 
Enrolments tentatively 6 September 2020)

2020.2 KFP/AKT
Original Date:
17 & 18 July 2020
Revised Date:
September 2020
(Close Of Enrolments tentatively 15 May 2020)

2020.2 OSCE
Original Date:
8-Nov-20
Revised Date:
February 2021
(Close Of Enrolments tentatively 23 November 2020)

How will COVID-19 affect ACRRM exams?

(17 March 2020)

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As the ACRRM training program is designed for digital and distance-based delivery, the College is in a position to enable training and assessment programs to continue with minimal disruption due to COVID-19.

MCQ Online Exam (27 March) will proceed with strong recommendation that registrars participate through distance-based means rather than attending the centralised exam centres. Exam centres will be available with strict social distancing provisions applied.

Primary Curriculum Structured Assessment of Multiple Patient Scenarios (PC StAMPS) (16-17 May) will proceed with strong recommendation that registrars move to video-based rather than exam centre option. Exam centres will be adjusted to provide additional space for social distancing to be applied.

More information.

What does the expansion of MBS Telehealth item numbers mean for GP trainees?

(23 March 2020)

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MBS Telehealth item numbers can now be used by GPs or registrars who are in an at risk category.

Any GP trainee who has been concerned about:

  • an immunocompromised state,
  • pregnancy
  • being a parent of an infant under 12 months of age
  • or having a chronic medical condition that increases their risk of COVID-19

Will now be able to work without face-to-face contact with patients either on-site or off-site depending on what they are comfortable with and their practice set up.

More information.

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