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Singapore – Allied Health Professions Act.

10 April, 2013

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Singapore – Regulatory & Compliance

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The Allied Health Professions Act (“Act”) has come into operation. The main purposes of the Act are to:

 

(a) establish a regulatory body to regulate the conduct and practice of allied health professionals (“AHPs”);

(b) provide a framework for the registration of AHPs; and (c) establish a regime for complaints management, inquiry, investigation and discipline of cases involving registered AHPs.

 

BACKGROUND

 

An AHP is a person who has a professional qualification in one of the allied health professions set out in the Act. The list of allied health professions currently comprises: audiologists, clinical psychologists, dieticians, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, prosthetists/ orthotists, radiation therapists, radiographers and speech therapists.

 

AHPs provide direct patient care services and may treat patients without referral from doctors. Prior to the Act, the regulation of AHPs was left to the professionals themselves through their professional associations and societies. However, the number of AHPs has risen over the years due to increased local training capacity and foreign recruitment and as AHPs continue to play an integral role in the healthcare industry, legislation was introduced to ensure that AHPs in Singapore provide suitable standards of treatment and service.

 

Set out below are some key features of the Act.

 

REGISTRATION OF AHPS

 

There are four types of registration under the Act.

 

Full registration

 

An AHP with full registration may practice without supervision in the allied health profession in which he is registered. Generally, in order to qualify for full registration, an AHP must first obtain a conditional registration, serve out the period specified by the Allied Health Professions Council (“Council”) and satisfy all the conditions of his conditional registration.

 

Alternatively, the Council has the discretion to register an AHP with full registration if he holds a qualification recognised by the Council and if he satisfies the Council that he has the knowledge and skill and sufficient experience in a prescribed health profession.

 

Restricted registration

 

An AHP may be granted restricted registration if the Council is of the opinion that he is competent to practise independently, but only in a limited area or at a particular establishment.

 

Conditional registration

 

An AHP may be registered with conditional registration to practise generally or in a restricted area or place of practice, subject to conditions. Conditions imposed on conditionally registered AHPs may include: being supervised by an AHP with full or restricted registration and performance reviews.

 

To be eligible for conditional registration, an AHP must hold a prescribed qualification and must have been selected for employment in Singapore in an establishment approved by the Council. Conditional registration is granted for a fixed period of time and may be renewed for such further periods as the Council thinks fit.

 

Temporary registration

 

An AHP may be granted temporary registration if he is in Singapore for the exclusive purpose of teaching, research or postgraduate study in a prescribed allied health profession and in an approved institution, or if he possesses knowledge, experience and skill in a prescribed allied health profession which the Council considers to be of international standing or have special value to Singapore.

 

Temporary registration is for a period of two years, which may be renewed for further period(s) not exceeding 12 months. Temporary registration may be subject to similar conditions as those imposed for conditional registration.

 

Transitional measures

 

The Ministry of Health has indicated in the consultation paper to the Act that all occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech therapists will be eligible for full, restricted or conditional registration when the Act comes into force.

 

In the first year of implementation of the Act, these AHPs can continue practicing as the Council processes their registration applications.

 

THE COUNCIL

 

The Act provides for the establishment of the Council to regulate AHPs. At present, only occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech therapists are regulated. Other AHPs could be regulated subsequently.

 

Some of the functions of the Council are to: issue practising certificates to registered AHPs, keep and maintain the registers of AHPs, accredit programmes and providers for the training of AHPs and regulate the standards of practice and conduct of registered AHPs.

 

OFFENCES UNDER THE ACT

 

Part IV of the Act sets out various offences, which include false assumption of title by persons who do not have the relevant AHP qualifications, procurement of registration using false information or fraud, forgery or fraudulent use of a certificate of registration or practising certificate and buying, selling or fraudulently obtaining a certificate of registration or practising certificate.

 

The general penalty prescribed for these offences is a fine not exceeding $25,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months in the case of a first offence. The penalty will be increased to a fine not exceeding $50,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months in the case of a second or subsequent conviction.

 

COMPLAINTS MANAGEMENT AND DISCIPLINE

 

As is the case with other healthcare professionals such as doctors or dentists, AHPs will be subject to a complaints management and disciplinary framework. The framework includes a new “voluntary insight” mechanism, together with provisions for complaints committees, disciplinary tribunals, health and inquiry committees.

 

Voluntary insight

 

The “voluntary insight” mechanism facilitates negotiation and the taking of constructive remedial action enabling the Council to resolve certain matters with the registered AHP’s consent without the need to resort to formal disciplinary proceedings. The mechanism may be invoked by the registered AHP or the Council in situations where the AHP’s ability to practice is affected by his physical or mental health or when the quality of professional services provided by him does not meet the standard reasonably expected of an AHP.

 

Complaints Committee

 

Any complaint referred to the Council will be routed to a committee (“Complaints Committee”) for review and investigation. The Complaints Committee is empowered to make a variety of orders, including dismissing the complaint, referring the matter for mediation, or referring the case for formal inquiry by either a Disciplinary Tribunal or a Health Committee.

 

Disciplinary Tribunal

 

A disciplinary tribunal (“Disciplinary Tribunal”) will be appointed by the Council when a Complaints Committee orders a formal inquiry to be carried out by such a tribunal. Where a Disciplinary Tribunal finds that a registered AHP has been convicted of fraud or dishonesty, or has committed professional misconduct or acted in a manner which brings disrepute to his profession, it may make orders to remove his name from the register, suspend or restrict his registration, impose a monetary penalty of not more than $50,000 or censure him.

 

The Act also contains provisions for review and appeal for a registered AHP who is unhappy with the Complaints Committee’s or Disciplinary Tribunal’s decision.

 

Health Committee and Interim Orders Committee

 

The Act also provides for a Health Committee to look into matters related to a registered AHP’s fitness to practice when he has been impaired by reason of his physical or mental condition, and an Interim Orders Committee, which is empowered to suspend or restrict a registered AHP’s practice if it is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so.

 

COMMENT

 

During the public consultation of the Act, a minority of respondents were of the view that the Council may not be able to effectively manage and account for the diversity amongst the various groups of allied health professions and expressed concerns about adequate and equal representation of the various professions for fair and effective regulation. In respect of these concerns, the Ministry of Health has indicated the Council will be advised by the committees which will, whenever possible, comprise mainly of AHPs from the profession from which the registered AHP being complained against is from. 

 

REFERENCES

 

Please click here to access the Allied Health Professions Act.

 

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Benjamin Gaw, Director, Drew & Napier 

benjamin.gaw@drewnapier.com

 

 

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