In what is becoming a worldwide trend, 500 retired doctors in Queensland have volunteered for service in the fight against the COVID-19 crisis.
And the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has signalled its willingness to fast-track their re-registrations, which means doctors in the front line will soon have their wished-for support.
The procedures for doctors to come out retirement is usually cumbersome.
But according to a report in Australian Doctor, the regulator has said it may waive formal “return to practice” protocols, noting that “most doctors volunteering would have to work under some form of supervision”.
Even so, it’s unclear whether the move will require legislation.
Two weeks ago federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said medical professionals who had recently retired could be needed to strengthen capacity in the health system.
Since then, the WA government has called for the plan to go ahead.
Doctor groups in WA and Queensland have already put a callout to retired doctors to gauge interest.
But there were concerns that what is essentially an emergency response – with time pressures – could be hampered by a plodding ration process that often takes months.
In response, Australian Doctor reports noted, AHPRA said it was developing ways to speed up paperwork, promising it was “willing to be flexible”.
There is also an issue of retired doctors accessing medical indemnity insurance in a timely fashion.
It’s more likely the un-retired doctors will be engaged as a support role, rather than working on the front line with coronavirus patients.
Queensland AMA is suggesting retired doctors could help with contact tracing and staffing of health information hotlines.
Associate Professor Dr Geoffrey Hawson is president of the Australian Senior Active Doctors Association.
He said 500 retired active Queensland doctors were “ready to fill the breach”.
“This is an issue around the world – doctors who are older being pressed into returning to practice,” said Professor Hawson, an oncologist.
“From our point of view we’re not pushing to have our members sitting in the ED or ICU looking after COVID-19 sick patients.
“We’re thinking we could help back-fill GP surgeries, doing work in call centres, things that would release other doctors under pressure.”
He said it was “ironic I suppose but we have to look after our fellow doctors”.
Regarding the registration hurdles, Dr Hawson, on his association’s website, said: “The government could provide for a step down or occasional practice registration category to keep these doctors in the system and available to practise in the community as needed.
“In the past, such a category has existed and could be easily reinstated.”