COVID-19: Psychology, podiatry and other allied health services reclassified as essential

(Getty Images file photo)
(Getty Images file photo)

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has re-categorised allied health services, like psychology and podiatry, conducted outside of public healthcare institutions as essential services, effective from Wednesday (29 April).

This exempts such services, which also include rehabilitation or therapy services, dietetics, and social work, from workplace closure during the extended circuit breaker period ending on 1 June.

Previously, only community mental health services fall under the category of essential services, with authorities requesting for practitioners of such services to deliver them remotely where possible.

Exemptions were made for private practitioners working with “higher risk” cases, such as those with severe depression or suicidal ideation.

in its response to media queries on Tuesday, the MOH said that there will be restrictions in place for the provision of allied health services to ensure that overall movement and interactions are still minimised during this period.

These include keeping therapy to one-to-one sessions and prioritising face-to-face consultations for patients whose condition may significantly or rapidly deteriorate and thus potentially threatening their health and wellbeing if they do not receive the therapy or treatment, till 17 May.

All allied health professionals will also have to continue to adhere to the prevailing safe distancing, crowd management, and personal protective equipment (PPE) measures.

The MOH also called for service providers to deliver their services through teleconsultation where suitable to reduce the potential risk of patient exposure to COVID-19.

In a separate Facebook post on Tuesday, the Singapore Psychological Society (SPS) said that practitioners on the Singapore Register of Psychologists (SRP) are allowed to open, but with no more than four consecutive hours a day and no more than five days a week.

It added that practitioners who wish to operate during the extended circuit breaker period should check their emails on Tuesday for further instructions on submitting hours to keep their clinics and centres open.

“This applies to SRP individual-practitioner services or group services where all individual psychologists are SRP-registered psychologists,” said the SPS.

From Wednesday, non-SRP-registered psychologists, who were previously exempted, may apply to the MOH to have the exemption extended until 1 June.

It also urged practitioners to reserve face-to-face sessions for cases where teleconsultation is deemed unsuitable as well as try to reduce contact as much as possible.

“With the recent increased attention in the media regarding the quality of psychological services, particularly, during the COVID-19 period, the Singapore Psychological Society (SPS) would like to emphasise that psychological services are important, and mental health service users should be protected,” it added.

Praveen Nair, director and senior consultant at Raven Counselling & Consultancy, called the reclassification a good move but said that the “constant vacillation” can lead to confusion and anxiety for many people.

There are several drawbacks to tele-consulting, he observed.

The most crucial part of the job – understanding people and issues – “requires immediate feedback and the assessment of body language” and an online platform limits this, Praveen said, noting that some patients also feel self-conscious to be seen on camera.

“Additionally, if there are other family members in the home, this may deter some clients from seeking help due to the possible encroachments on privacy,” said Praveen.

Dr Geraldine Tan, director and principal psychologist at The Therapy Room told Yahoo News Singapore the move is a “strong indicator” that attention needs to be paid to mental health here.

The reclassification sends a signal to the general public that they are not doing something “wrong” or “sneaking” around by visiting mental health experts, she explained.

“The saddest thing was hearing one of the teens who have depression and self-injurious behaviour come to a face-to-face (consultation) guiltily and say, ‘I don’t want to get you into trouble, or have you in jail’,” said Dr Tan.

“In fact, in times like these, it is essential to check in with a mental health professional to check in on those ‘blind spots’ that may bring you down unwittingly.”

The limitations put in place during the circuit breaker period can be “worked around” as many are still cautious about having face-to-face consultations during the coronavirus outbreak, she added.

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