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:
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:
- continue to deliver in person therapy and if you will need to implement any changes to current practice to consider doing this safely;
- return to service delivery via telehealth; or
- 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
Q&A session: The new normal: returning to in person service delivery
The Association is aware that members have many questions as they move back towards delivering in person services to clients. For this reason, the Association is bringing together a panel of speech pathologists to answer members’ questions and to support them re-engaging with clients in private practice and community based settings.
A short survey provides members with the opportunity to ask the panel a question or questions in advance. Responses will be anonymous and will guide the content of the Q&A session. Details regarding the release date of the event will be advertised shortly. Members with question regarding the Q&A should email the Association’s Manager Professional Practice.
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.
The Road to recovery during COVID-19 webinar
This webinar is for members who own or run a business, including sole provider. The webinar is free for Association members.
The webinar is on Thursday 28 May from 6-7 pm AEST.
In this webinar, Jacqui Attard from Realise Business will discuss what members need to be thinking about as they re-engineer their business to meet the new market conditions and transition back to business.
Registration is online via the Association’s NEW Learning Hub. This webinar will also be recorded and made available on the Learning Hub.
Mental health initiatives for health workers
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
COVIDSafe app – further information
Allied Health Professions Australia and its member organisations (including Speech Pathology Australia) are keen to ensure the safety of healthcare and medical workforce, and that they are supported in their efforts as frontline workers delivering essential services.
The Australian Government’s COVIDSafe app has been designed to keep all Australians safe by being able to quickly contact people who may have unknowingly been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. This means, once identified, people who may have been exposed to the virus can be given advice about the steps to take for their own health and to protect their family, friends and the wider community from possible infection.
The Department of Health is particularly keen to ensure our healthcare and medical workforce members are supported in their efforts as frontline workers delivering essential services.
Member with queries about COVIDSafe can find further information on online with dedicated COVIDSafe advice.
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:
Professional Education Events Update
In response to COVID-19 restrictions all face-to-face workshops have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, with the Association’s Professional Education team working to ensure continuity of member learning through interactive, live-streamed delivery. This new format has been named LIVE Online.
Members who previously registered for an Association’s workshop will be contacted by their Branch Coordinator with details of the new LIVE Online event. Participants will have the choice of moving to LIVE Online (with a discount) or a full refund. Once registered participants have moved into their online groups, remaining places will be opened nationally. Members will be able to access programs, irrespective of the state in which they live, resulting in more events accessible to more people.
Members should visit the Professional Education’s new Learning to Use Telepractice page with webinars on family-centred services, paediatric and adult dysphagia, risk management, IT considerations and complex disability services. Queensland Health have also shared with the Association their eLearning Programs on Telepractice for the Delivery of Paediatric Feeding Services and Conducting Clinical Swallowing Examinations via Telepractice. Learn more about the Queensland Health eLearning Programs.
Learning Hub arrives soon!
The Association is very close to launching its new Learning platform! Members be able to register for events, access recorded workshops, the Speak Up podcast, and webisodes. Keep an eye out on the Association’s website, Instagram and Facebook for launch details.
Will I be able to earn enough PSR points in 2020?
There are many opportunities to earn PSR points with online study resources as well as self-directed study. With the development of even more webinars, Speak Up podcasts, webisodes and online courses are underway.
While all of this is occurring, members should keep a look out for regular updates. Again, the health and safety of members and staff will be paramount in these decisions.
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
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.
Risks associated with speech pathology procedures: transmission of COVID-19
Speech Pathology Australia is aware that many members undertake procedures with clients that involve potential exposure to oral, nasopharyngeal and/or laryngeal/tracheal secretions. Procedures such as: examination of the mouth and face, bedside assessment of swallow function including elicitation of a cough (voluntary or involuntary), instrumental assessment of voice or swallow functions, replacement of voice prostheses, tracheostomy management and others. Members are seeking information and guidance to support safe practice and reduce the risk of transmission of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The purpose of this statement is to guide and support speech pathologists to apply a risk management framework to their practices during the COVID-19 outbreak. Speech pathologists have the knowledge, skills and expertise to understand the risks of transmission of the virus and to act in appropriate ways to reduce those risks in their workplace.
Speech Pathologists, as health workers, can now gain access to coronavirus testing if they have a fever or acute respiratory infection as indicated in the Prime Minister’s Press Release from National Cabinet on 26 March 2020. Speech pathologists should follow appropriate advice and guidance to protect their own health, their clients’ health and that of the community.
The risks speech pathologists must consider include the risks to themselves, risks to patients, and risks to the community. Speech Pathologists can refer to the document: Risk Management Safety Tool, produced by Guild, to consider decision making from a risk management perspective.
The following links provide useful information for speech pathologists to assist in their decision making:
Infection Control, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Identifying and managing risks associated with face-to-face contact with patients:
Identifying and managing risks associated with procedures with potential droplet and aerosol exposure
Personal Protective Equipment
Residential Aged Care
Speech pathologists with additional needs
Allied Health is an Essential Service
Speech Pathology Australia is receiving a number of calls and emails from members in regards to how best to continue providing a service to clients.
Federal Health Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt has confirmed that ALL allied health businesses nationally can continue working and are encouraged to do so. The Minister has also indicated that the Department of Health is now developing full allied health telehealth options, along with other health and medical services, within the week. This will be part of a staged plan and he encourages providers to continue vital face-to-face services where possible. More information to follow when details are known.
If members do continue sessions with clients, they are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of themselves, theirs clients and their staff. This may mean changing how they work. Decisions will be impacted by the location and nature of your business e.g. mobile practice, home based service, provision of services to schools, services to NDIS participants etc. Members needs to assess the risk of delivering face to face services with clients and how and if they can manage these appropriately in light of available advice.
A member’s infection control policy should reflect government recommendations appropriate for their clinical setting, shared with clients and followed by themselves and any staff. Information is available from many sources including the Australian Government Department of Health and the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission.
Telehealth may be an option for some clients. Clinicians should assess individual client needs and determine the appropriateness of this method of service delivery on a case-by-case basis. Clients will need to agree to this mode of service delivery. Speech Pathology Australia has the following resources as well as some planned CPD events about this area. See "telepractice" under "general" section of Professional Practice page on the Association’s website.
The NDIS have indicated “telepractice can be used where appropriate and with the agreement from the participant. Providers should ensure they meet the NDIS Code of Conduct and NDIS Practice Standards to ensure quality service provision.
The table below that provides information and links to state/territory based information about COVID-19. This information is updated regularly, and the Association advises members to read this information to help guide decision making about servicing clients.
|Where will I find updates
|What is essential
||Federal Health Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt, in light of some states shutting down ‘non-essential services’, the Minister has confirmed that ALL allied health businesses nationally can continue working and are encouraged to do so. The Minister has also indicated that the Department of Health is now developing full allied health telehealth options, along with other health and medical services, within the week. This will be part of a staged plan and he encourages providers to continue vital face-to-face services where possible. The 1 person per 4 square meter rule applies for face-to-face services.
Petrol stations, supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, freight and logistics and home delivery service
|What is non-essential
||Provided by the federal government:
Pubs, registered and licenced clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation) Gyms and indoor sporting venues Cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, and night clubs Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery Religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the 1 person per 4 square metre rule applies).
Australian Health - resources
Australian Health - COVID-19 alert
The Association has located in one place a range of resources to assist members considering telepractice for the provision of clinical services. Read more...
Speech Pathology Australia National Conference, Darwin 2020 – POSTPONED
With the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring COVID-19 (Coronavirus) a “controllable pandemic”, followed by the recent Government announcement to not allow large events over 500 people, The Association has taken the necessary step to postpone the planned National Conference in Darwin this May. We are currently planning for this conference to be rescheduled to be run in 2021 in Darwin, with plans for the Melbourne event in 2021 to also be rescheduled. While we are hugely disappointed given the excellent work of the 2020 Conference Planning Committee, we anticipate much of the same in terms of program and events will be put in place for next year.
What happens to my registration already paid?
Full refunds will be paid for all delegate registrations as fees will not be transferred to 2021. Due to the large number of refunds to be processed, our finance department has advised it could be the end of April 2020 before you see the credit back in to your account. All refunds will be credited back against the Visa or MasterCard used to make the registration payment. Unfortunately, the Association cannot control any decisions regarding costs for travel and accommodation, however we have already liaised with Ozaccom, and members are advised to contact them directly to discuss receiving a refund. For all enquiries, members can email Ozaccom+ or telephone them on 1800 814 611 (Australian Toll Free) or +61 7 3854 1611.
What will happen in regards to sponsors and exhibitors?
All sponsors and exhibitors will be contacted directly to discuss options for a refund or transfer to next year’s conference.
What will happen to the presentations in the current planned program?
Presenters will be contacted directly with options regarding their presentation. Discussion is also occurring with Keynote presenters. More will be announced soon.
Annual General Meeting
The Association’s AGM and provision to members of the end of year Financial Reports must occur within certain timeframes, with this being reviewed at present in relation to this being conducted as an online member event, pending changes to current statutory requirements.
Member Awards Ceremony
Each year, this is a very special event, which usually occurs alongside the AGM. We still wish to suitably recognise and celebrate our wonderful award recipients for 2020 and are considering a range of options – more information to come on these plans.
Member Supports and Information
The Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in unprecedented implications for health professionals working across all public and private sectors. There are many government-based resources, which can be linked from the Association's dedicated COVID-19 page.
Additionally, the Association is continually looking at what we can develop or provide to enable access to information and support.
What do I need to do to keep my business afloat?
The Association is currently developing a specific business webinar through Realise Business, which will focus on managing business disruptions. Save the date for Thursday 26 March, from 1pm to 2pm (EADT) – registrations will open soon for live and recorded access.
Additionally, the Association has created a new resource with Business Continuity information and links to additional information.
How can I deliver services to clients who need to self-isolate or do not wish to attend my clinic?
Telehealth has always been an option for speech pathologists, but this is even more relevant in this current health situation. Important considerations in use of telepractice, along with a free webinar and resource material is available.
Are there rebates for telehealth services?
Telehealth services are eligible under NDIS plans and some PHIs do provide rebates, however currently Medicare items are not covering speech pathology. The Association, alongside AHPA, are actively lobbying government for telehealth MBS items to be extended to all allied health professions, given this critical need.
What should I do in relation to making home visits?
Remember to keep yourself safe and well. If a client has been diagnosed with Coronavirus or is in self-isolation, we recommend members do not visit their home or community setting. Seek other means to maintain services for that client and family.
Association related meetings and travel
The Association is closely monitoring whether its related meetings, such as Branch or committee meetings, should occur. We will be in contact with Branch Chairs or Committee leads. But in the meantime, we support everyone in making reasonable decisions to keep yourself and your family safe.
Speech Pathology Australia National Office
The Association remains as ‘business as usual’ at present, but staff wellbeing is being closely monitored. In this digital world, it will be possible for us to maintain our business activities, even if staff need to work remotely. But if there are delays or disruption, we will appreciate your patience and understanding.