COVID-19: Impacts on speech pathologists

Speech Pathology Australia is endeavouring to keep its members informed about the impact of COVID-19 and its impact on the Association and the services and information it provides to its members. This page will be regularly updated. On this page, members will find information on the following topics:

Roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia for speech pathologists

Under 'Australia's Epidemiology and COVID-19 Vaccine Roadmap', priority will be given to frontline (hospital) healthcare workers, residential aged care and disability care workers, and anyone working in quarantine facilities (Phase 1a). Speech pathologists working in these settings are likely to be included in Phase 1a. Allied health professionals working in primary care and community-based services will be vaccinated as part of Phase 1b (‘other healthcare workers’) or Phase 2a (‘other critical and high risk workers’) of the rollout. The vaccine roadmap is available from the Department of Health website. The Association will pass on any further information as it becomes available.

Update for the greater Brisbane area after 6 pm 11 January 2021

Masks must (at this stage) continue to be worn inside until 22 January 2021, and the 4m2 rule remains in place. If a person leaves the greater Brisbane area these rules still apply to that individual. Read the table below for more information about what PPE is required and when. Please brush up on appropriate donning and doffing PPE.

A person can remove their mask temporarily if it is necessary for communication e.g. working with someone who is hard of hearing, deaf, or relies on facial expressions and lip reading to communicate. If telepractice can be used this is preferred. Members considering providing face-to-face services should use the SPA Risk Assessment Tool to identify and mitigate any risks.

View table of recommended PPE escalation according to risk of COVID infections in community health services This graphic is associated with the hyperlink that precedes it and indicates the document is in PDF.

NSW Health services have moved from amber to green alert

On Wednesday 18 November, NSW Health services moved from amber to green alert in line with the COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Response Framework.

This decision follows discussion at the Risk Escalation Review Panel, which includes representatives from the Ministry of Health, Public Health Emergency Operations Centre, the Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI) and the Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC). The Panel's recommendation has been actioned in consultation with the Chief Health Officer.

A significant factor in changing alert levels has been no locally acquired COVID-19 cases in NSW in the past two weeks, and that recent cases in neighbouring states remain low, despite a resurgence of locally acquired cases in South Australia.

Current risk levels in NSW are monitored on the COVID-19 Risk Monitoring Dashboard.

An important aspect related to the risk level moving to green, is the corresponding use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

With the transition to a green alert, most staff do not need to wear a surgical mask when within 1.5 metres of a patient.

Mask wearing is still required for staff working in emergency departments and for all staff when attending to patients who have an acute respiratory infection.

Patients presenting to the emergency department should continue to be encouraged to wear masks. Most other patients are not required to wear masks. The use of PPE for any suspected, probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, remains unchanged.

A full matrix of infection prevention and control practices under each alert level is available with the Framework together with posters to support communication with staff and patients.

The fundamental principles of infection prevention and control, including maintaining physical distancing, regular hand hygiene and cough etiquette, must continue to be applied across all settings.

Grief and trauma support for the aged care sector

The Australian Government is investing $12.4 million in a Grief and Trauma Response Package to ensure support is available for those affected by COVID-19 across the aged care sector. Three organisations will be involved in providing support and services to residents, families and all aged care workers, including:
  • Phoenix Australia – Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health is Australia’s National Centre of Excellence in post-traumatic mental health. Phoenix will deliver a sector-wide trauma-informed care package that provides trauma training and resources for aged care residents, their families and aged care staff, including through the establishment of a dedicated website.
  • The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement (ACGB) will provide specialist information and support to residential aged care and home care recipients and their families who have been affected by COVID-19.
  • Dementia Support Australia (DSA) will implement a proactive engagement program to help alleviate the impacts of lockdown on aged care residents living with dementia.

View the Minister’s full media release.

Increase to Allied Health Services in Residential Aged Care: Response to Royal Commission COVID19 report

In response to the impact of COVID19 in aged care, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has released a special report identifying 6 recommendations for immediate action.

Recommendation 3 calls for the Australian government to create new MBS items to increase the provision of allied health services, including mental health services, to people in aged care during the pandemic. In noting the widespread negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of people living in residential care ( both directly from COVID and from lockdown) the Commission also noted the recognition of allied health as ‘essential workers’, and also recommended “Any barriers, whether real or perceived, to allied health professionals being able to enter residential aged care facilities should be removed unless justified on genuine public health grounds”.

The government has accepted and committed to all six recommendations. The Association will be contributing to a response to the Department of Health in relation to considerations needed in creating these ‘new’ MBS items, and highlighting the need for speech pathology services given the potential impacts on swallowing and communication skills post COVID19 in this clinical population.

Clear masks update

If a clear mask is used for clinical reasons (e.g. to aid communication), it must adhere to the relevant standards (Australian or international) and be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure the mask demonstrates adequate safety, quality and performance for clinical purposes.

Speech Pathology Australia has been advocating for access to clear masks for speech pathologists in Australia. At the present time, we believe that there are no clear masks available in Australia that meet relevant Standards. The Association has also been watching our colleagues in the UK with respect to a supplier there whose product ClearMask™ had received approval for use in the NHS and social care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Association notes the RCSLT’s recent guidance that this mask:

“cannot be used in high risk or surgical environments or during invasive procedures or aerosol generating procedures (AGPs). It should not be used where there is risk of excessive splashing or spraying of body fluids. The mask has not been assessed for bacterial efficiency to protect the client from the SLT and should therefore not be used in place of a Type I or Type II surgical mask or Type IIR FRSM to protect vulnerable clients. It also cannot be used if there is a potential risk of COVID-19 in the setting. RCSLT is hearing feedback from its members that there are concerns with fit and movement of the ClearMask™ during exaggerated facial movements, in gapping and uncovering of the nose Page 1 of 2 and/or mouth.” Full details can be located from the RCSLT.

The Association recognises the communication challenges for all in the use of face masks, and will continue to seek opportunities to raise these concerns and the need for access to a suitable product for speech pathologists in Australia.

Continuation of telehealth for TAC clients

The TAC has announced they will extend funding of temporary telehealth services previously scheduled to end on 30 September until further notice. Telephone consultations may be used if videoconferencing is not available.

TAC telehealth rates allow a speech pathologist to be paid at the TAC face-to-face rate when telehealth services are delivered to clients. Provider guidelines for the delivery of telehealth can be found on the TAC website.

Queensland Health: Pandemic Response Guidance on PPE in Healthcare Delivery UPDATED 1/10

Queensland Health have released the first edition of the ‘Pandemic Response Guidance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Healthcare Delivery’. The Guidance has been developed by a panel of infection control and public health experts and is intentionally drafted to be applicable to all healthcare settings, not just Queensland Health facilities, and not just hospitals.

The Guidance defines three levels of pandemic transmission risk, with associated PPE requirements for various clinical settings.

As issued by Queensland Health This graphic is associated with the hyperlink that precedes it and indicates the document is in PDF. on 1 October, the following LGAs have now been determined by the Chief Health Officer to be in the “low risk” category, and PPE usage can be reduced:

  • City of Brisbane
  • City of Ipswich
  • Lockyer Valley Region
  • Logan City
  • Moreton Bay Region
  • Redland City
  • Scenic Rim Region
  • Somerset Region

With this downgrade, the entire state is now on “low risk” for PPE decision-making. PPE utilisation should not change until further notice. This is important in order to preserve stock of critical supplies. Healthcare providers in the “low risk” geographic areas can be assured that the situation is being closely monitored, and updates to this risk categorisation will be issued as needed.

This advice regarding the use of PPE is provided to you as guidance but does not reflect a mandatory directive. It also applies to PPE requirements in residential care, disability care and correctional facilities.

Information for Queensland clinicians regarding COVID-19 is available from Queensland Health.

Statement from NSW Department of Education – Wearing masks while visiting schools

Schools are required to follow the AHPPC guidelines. The guidelines do not require schools to conduct widespread temperature screening or for anyone to wear masks. Staff members who feel strongly about wearing a mask should be accommodated by the school.

The Association has been advised this would include external service providers. Speech pathologists are encouraged to discuss their own personal situation with the leadership teams at the school they are visiting. Members should share the Speech Pathology Australia Risk Assessment Tool (COVID 19) and Speech Pathology and COVID -19 Consumer Fact Sheet to assist in educating others on the considerations individual speech pathologists make in the decision making process. This includes decisions on engaging in face to face interactions with clients/consumers and the use of PPE.

Aged Care Worker restrictions in South Australia – clarification for allied health professionals (including speech pathologists)

Allied health professionals can continue to work across multiple aged care homes. Only personal care workers are restricted to one aged care home from 27 August.

Allied Health Professionals will have to inform each aged care facility of the names of the other aged care facilities that they are visiting for work, so that the aged care facility can complete their Workforce Management Plan. More information can be found on the South Australian Government website under COVID Safe South Australia FAQs - Emergency Management (Residential Aged Care Facilities No 7) COVID 19 Direction 2020.

Speech Pathology and COVID-19 Consumer Fact Sheet

Speech pathologists are discussing with clients whether ‘face to face’ services can continue and when telepractice is appropriate during COVID-19 restrictions.

This fact sheet for consumers has been developed to support those discussions. Members can provide the fact sheet to clients in electronic or print form. An Easy English version is currently being finalised. View the Speech Pathology and COVID-19 fact sheet This graphic is associated with the hyperlink that precedes it and indicates the document is in PDF..

Importance of mental health and wellbeing

The Department of Health stresses the importance of looking after one’s mental health and wellbeing. Below are some suggested websites from the department.

  • The Government’s digital mental health gateway is a good place to start.
  • Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus mental wellbeing support service is available 24/7 or call 1800 512 348.
  • Resources from the National Mental Health Commission.
  • Drs4Drssupport service – call 1300 374 377.
  • The Essential Network (TEN) is a mobile app that connects and provides fast, easy, anytime access to evidence-based tools, resources, programs and specialists. Developed by health professionals for health professionals, it’s a one stop resource and help centre, providing self-assessment, self-management and treatment for stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression.
  • Smiling Mind is a free mindfulness app currently offering frontline health professionals free access to the premium version.

Decision-making tool for members practising where Stage 4 restrictions

The Association has produced a decision-making tool for members practising where Stage 4 restrictions are in place. The tool is designed to support decision making for ‘in person’ service delivery within government restrictions, and should be used in conjunction with the Speech Pathology Australia-Risk Assessment Tool (COVID-19), the Speech Pathology Australia guidance for service delivery, clinical procedures and infection control during COVID-19 pandemic, clinical procedures and infection control during COVID-19 pandemic, current guidelines regarding use of PPE, and resources provided to support telepractice.

Work permits for essential workers in Victoria

Essential workers, including speech pathologists, in Melbourne will be required to carry a permit under the state’s tightened Stage 4 lockdown restrictions from 11.59pm on Wednesday 5 August.

What is required?

To issue a worker permit, employers will need

  • name, ABN, company address and trading name
  • the name and date of birth of the employee
  • the employee’s regular hours and place of work
  • to meet all eligibility criteria, including that the business is a permitted activity
  • to meet all relevant legal obligations
  • to have a COVID-19 safe plan in place
  • to authorise a person or people to issue the worker permit.

How to apply

To apply, employers must fill out the template from the government website and have it signed by an authorised person (i.e. The CEO, a HR manager, an operations manager).

The employee is then required to sign it and may travel to work without a permit once to collect it.

Employees must carry the worker permit, which can be displayed electronically, and photo identification when travelling to and from the workplace.

Sole traders still need a form but they can complete as both the employer and employee.

The Association recommends members also carry a copy of their Speech Pathology Australia registration certificate along with the work permit. Members can find their Speech Pathology Australia certificate under their profile on the Association’s website (log in to access your profile).

More details including template for the work permit can be found at on the Department of Justice website.

UPDATE for NSW providers about wearing of surgical masks

The escalation to Amber Alert – Moderate Transmission by NSW Health applies to surgical mask use within 1.5 metres in all healthcare facilities and community health services, including hospital in the home, operated by NSW Health.

Private and independent health care providers may refer to this advice for guidance and to inform their own local risk assessments.

View the NSW Government's COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control: Response and Escalation Framework - FAQs document.

More about the announcement can be found in a message from the Secretary, NSW Health.

The Association reminds speech pathologists to also refer to the revised version of the Association's Guidance on Service Delivery document for specific guidance on PPE during specific speech pathology tasks/ procedures with higher risks, and ensure that training in appropriate use of PPE has been undertaken. It is recommended to continue to carefully consider in-person service delivery via use of the Speech Pathology Online Risk Assessment Tool.

Members should also make reference to the Association's information on Access to Surgical Masks through PHNs.

Summary: COVID-19 response update for primary care and allied health practitioners webinar (23 July)

Panel: Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical officer; Frances Rice, Senior Nursing and Midwifery Advisor and Anne-marie Boxall, Chief Allied Health Officer

The panel acknowledged challenges for health care providers particularly in lockdown areas in Melbourne and concerns around outbreaks of community transmission in Victoria and NSW.

COVID 19 testing continues at a very high level and indicated it is imperative that providers encourage all clients who have symptoms of fever and respiratory tract infections to stay at home and get tested.

Over 1 million health workers have completed Department Health’s training in infection control.

While 6.7 million Australians have downloaded COVID app, the panel reminded everyone about the importance of taking their phone with them when they leave home and to make sure the app is running.

Aged care workers: if they have any symptoms, they need to get tested ASAP and not go to work.

Allied health providers should contact their local PHN for access to surgical masks. The Association reminds members that speech pathologists are deemed high priority for masks. Members should contact their state/territory health department if the have any difficulties accessing face masks from this source. View the Association’s COVID-19: Access to Surgical Masks.

MBS telehealth items: No changes have been made to allied health items for telehealth. Some changes have been made to GP items, e.g. patient must have seen the GP or someone from that practice at least once in past 12 months in order to receive a benefit for the telehealth session (exemptions for people living under COVID restrictions, children under 12 months age, people who have attended aboriginal medical services etc.). These new restrictions do not apply for allied health – MBS items continue as usual. For more details see the Association’s  COVID-19: Medicare, DVA and Private Health Funds.

Clear surgical masks are currently not available from PHNs and need to be accessed from private sources. Members need to be aware of quality of any masks sourced via private providers. The Association is trying to source clear masks for members which meet regulatory standards for PPE.

In Victoria, members are advised to read DHHS information about wearing masks. Members should also refer to specific DHHS information for allied health on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - coronavirus (COVID-19).

The panel indicated that best practice in a consultation is that both parties wear a mask. If that is not possible then the clinician should wear a mask. Children under 12 of age are exempt from wearing mask but it is important that providers consider risks and use clinical judgement when making decisions about who wears a mask in order to minimise the spread of COVID 19 – protecting the speech pathologist and client is most important thing at this time. See the Speech Pathology Australia Risk Assessment Tool to support decision making.

Wearing glasses with a mask? This website was recommended as helpful place to get advice.

Physical distancing with children – acknowledged that this is not always possible so providers must then use appropriate PPE and modify environment.

Face shield and UV sterilisation - the Department is currently getting some advice around these areas and will share this with providers.

Consumer information: use of face masks in the community to protect against COVID-19

Wearing a face mask is now recommended by Australian health experts in areas where community transmission of COVID-19 is high, if physical distancing is not possible.

In response, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (the Commission) has developed new resources to provide guidance to consumers on the use of face masks to protect against COVID-19.

The new resources support the recommendation of the Australian Government and Victorian Government to wear face masks in areas where there is community transmission of COVID-19.

Wearing a face mask is currently recommended to help protect against droplets when a person with COVID-19 coughs, speaks or sneezes, is within 1.5 metres of another person. Wearing a mask will also help protect others where an individual is infected with the virus.

Update for members delivering services in Victoria

The Victorian premier has announced a stay-at-home order will be imposed on some Melbourne suburbs* experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases from 11.59 pm tomorrow 1 July 2020. The government has indicated "there will only be four reasons that you are permitted to leave your house and only if you really have to: for work or school, for care or care giving, for daily exercise, for food and other essentials. They are the acceptable reasons to leave but only if you need to”.

The Association is aware that this announcement will impact some of our members and decisions around service delivery over the coming weeks.

Please note: Speech pathology is considered to be an essential service.

Members living, working in these post codes or providing services to clients who live in these areas will need to consider the that risk of transmission of COVID-19 may be higher during this time.

Therefore, it is important to conduct a risk assessment to determine if you will:

  1. continue to deliver in person therapy and if you will need to implement any changes to current practice to consider doing this safely;
  2. return to service delivery via telehealth; or
  3. if you will choose to deliver services via a combination of telehealth and in person service delivery.

Members should use the Speech Pathology Australia Risk Assessment tool and contact the Association if they need further support.

*Postcodes where restrictions will apply: 3012, 3021, 3012, 3021, 3032, 3038, 3042, 3046, 3047, 3055, 3060, 3064

State and territory information, grants and assistance

Each Australian state and territory is providing different financial help, restrictions and assistance for businesses affected by COVID-19, so it’s important to stay up-to-date with new announcements. Along with the assistance the Australian Government has announced, members may be eligible for assistance from their State or Territory Government.

Mental health initiatives for health workers

  1. The Black Dog Institute has partnered with other providers to offer a dedicated mental health and wellbeing e-health hub for frontline health workers during the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Essential Network (TEN) includes online information, and a new app to give health workers fast, easy, access to evidence-based tools, resources, programs and specialists. The app will be launched soon, and will include resources for immediate assessment, access to resources and digital self-help and self-management. It will be progressively updated every two weeks with new content and features, to provide a full and comprehensive network of services by mid-July. TEN will also facilitate a streamlined online referral process for telehealth consultations with specialist clinicians. More information can be found here: 
  1. The Government has also provided funding for Smiling Mind, giving health workers free access to their premium app, which offers meditation programs and mindfulness guidance developed by psychologists. 
  1. The Pandemic Kindness Movement was created by clinicians across Australia, working together to support all health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The site curatsd respected, evidence-informed resources and links to valuable services to support the wellbeing of the health workforce.
  1. Members are also reminded of the following helplines:

Beyond Blue | 1300 22 4636

Butterfly Foundation | 1800 334 673

Kids Helpline | 1800 55 1800

Lifeline | 13 11 14

Mensline | 1300 789 978

Mental Health Line | 1800 011 511

Mindspot | 1800 61 44 34

Older Australians COVID-19 support | 1800 171 866

Q-Life | 1800 184 527

Suicide Call Back Service | 1300 659 467

WorkSafe item codes for temporary telehealth sessions

As part of its response to COVID-19, WorkSafe is introducing temporary measures to support the continuation of essential health services for injured workers. WorkSafe has put together a fact sheet with further detail. Read more…

IAHA Resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Professionals

Indigenous Allied Health Australia is assisting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce by collaborating on a project led by NATSIHWA with AIDA, IAHA and CATSINaM to develop a resource toolkit that includes posters on important contacts, tips and information. View the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Professionals Resource Toolkit. 

Important guidance for access to available supplies of PPE 

Important guidance for access to available supplies of PPE (masks) for allied health in the community through PHNs. Prioritisation advice to PHNs places speech pathologists in the ‘High Priority’ grouping – this recognition of the types of procedures which speech pathologists undertake, including potential aerosol generating procedures (AGPs), is a pleasing result of strong advocacy by Speech Pathology Australia in this area.

TAC telehealth item codes now available for speech pathologists (updated)

The TAC have provided details regarding TAC item codes and rates for telehealth services provided by speech pathologists.

The new rates will allow speech pathologists to be paid at the current TAC face-to-face rate when delivering telehealth services to TAC clients.

These arrangements will remain in place until 30 September 2020 to ensure TAC clients can continue to access essential treatments and services during these challenging times.

Telehealth invoices can be backdated to 13 March 2020.

In line with the TAC's Clinical Framework, providers must ensure the need for telehealth is clinically justified, outcome focussed and related to a client’s transport accident.

Members should regularly check the Information for TAC providers page for the latest updates.

Flu vaccinations and COVID-19

The Department of Health recommends that Australians have a flu vaccination to avoid the possibility of infection by both flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Further information regarding flu vaccination can be found:

COVID-19 resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and remote communities

The Australian Department of Health has a collection of resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and remote communities about coronavirus (COVID-19). These resources include a poster, audio, digital and video materials. Read more…

Important New resource: Speech Pathology Australia guidance for service delivery, clinical procedures and infection control during COVID-19 pandemic This is an animiated Gif that flashes the word new in red out of a yellow background.

Speech Pathology Australia recognises that speech pathologists and authorities are seeking guidance regarding speech pathology practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. This statement aims to provide in-principle guidance relating to speech pathology service delivery, clinical procedures that pose particular risks, and infection control to minimise transmission of COVID-19. This guidance is provided in the context of a rapidly evolving health care emergency and is subject to change as new data and information becomes available. The Association will continue to provide important updates to members on these critical clinical management decisions. Read the statement...

Government Stimulus packages for business owners

Realise Business* has recorded a webinar “Recovering form business interruption due to the Covid -19”. This webinar has been shared with members who previously registered and will be available on the Association’s new learning platform, free of charge, from Friday 3 April.

Jacqui Attard, CEO of Realise Business, has kindly shared a YouTube video explaining the government’s Stimulus package (22 March 2020) in response to COVID-19.

Realise Business is producing follow-up information about further stimulus packages announced on 30 March 2020. More details will be posted when this becomes available.

In addition to information produced as a response to COVID-19, the Association has collaborated with Realise Business to produce a virtual learning and coaching program to grow and develop members' businesses. The next course is now online and will start in June 2020. Numbers are strictly limited.

* Realise Business is a Not-for-Profit and funded by all levels of government. Speech Pathology Australia has worked with Realise Business in the past to produce CPD for members.

COVID-19 advice for people with disability

The Department of Health has developed a series of resources to help protect people with disability from coronavirus.

These resources include videos and information for families, Disability Support Providers and Workers, health workers, and other key stakeholders who work with Australians with disability.

View these resources and information on the department website.

Easy English Resources

The Association has identified a range of Easy English resources to explain COVID-19.