News

COVID-19 Update – 31 March

MHCC have been consulting with members about the impact of Coronavirus and communicating issues to both the NSW and Australian Government agencies as appropriate. We understand this is a very challenging time for member organisations and things are changing rapidly. We are keeping members informed about the latest COVID 19 advice through our e-newsletter FYI and on our website.

This update addresses a number of matters that have been raised in the last few days.

Public Health Order 30 March 2020

The Government has issued a further public health order with restrictions on gathering and movement. It is directing people to stay at home unless they are going to work (when they can’t work remotely), school or an education institution, shopping for food and essentials, getting medical care or exercise. It lists a number of reasonable excuses for leaving home and this includes:

  • Providing care or assistance (including personal care) to a vulnerable person or to provide emergency assistance
  • Accessing social services, employment services, services provided to victims, domestic violence services and mental health services

Further information is provided on the NSW Government website, see the link below
https://preview.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/public-health-orders

Services for people with severe mental illness, their families and carers are essential and should continue. Some providers have advised they are giving staff a letter to indicate they are providing mental health services. The Ministry of Health will be providing further advice which will be circulated as soon as it is available.

Essential Services

Many member organisations have been asking for clarity as to whether community mental health organisations (CMO’s) are delivering essential services. MHCC have been advised by the Ministry of Health that direct care services funded by the Ministry, including those delivered by CMO’s are considered essential services. The NDIA have also advised that community mental health services are recognised as an essential service.

Essential services should not be confused with purely clinical services. Essential services are the services necessary to support consumes/clients stay well in the community, be able to function and stay safe. Of course, they must be delivered in a safe manner with appropriate attention to infection control and social distancing and telehealth and telephone support are mechanisms for delivering support where a home visit is not possible.

Some Examples of Essential Services are (this list is not exhaustive):

Community-based and outreach services
Note: A consumer/client includes the person, their family, carers and others who may be present at the time of the service.
Generally, essential services involve activities and interactions between CMOs and consumers/ clients which occur in several ways including:

Home visits including:

  • Housing and accommodation support in the home, boarding houses, caravan parks and other environment
  • Other home-based services including medication support, management and delivery, coexisting health monitoring, psychosocial wellbeing and personal care

Assistance with scheduled clinic and drop-in primary health clinics including:

  • Visits to Community MH Centres (CMHC) for Clozapine metabolic monitoring and other psychiatric and related physical health monitoring, titration and side effect check-ups
  • CMHC/GP visits for depot injections (IMIs) and heath reviews
  • HealthOne Centres

Information and referral-telephone services about COVID-19

  • Telephone support services where home visits not possible due to service shutdown or sickness
  • Online/telephone services for general information about safety and crisis support services
Responsibilities of CMOs

Organisations have a responsibility to, so far as is reasonably practicable, protect the health and safety of its employees and minimise any potential exposure to coronavirus in the workplace. Workers also have responsibilities under the same laws to remove or minimise health and safety risks associated with the coronavirus.

Organisations also have a responsibility to ensure that services meet the obligations specified in the NDIS Code of Conduct which requires workers and providers who deliver NDIS supports to follow the principles outlined in the code.

Registered NDIS Providers

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission is publishing regular provider alerts about the responsibilities of registered providers which more generally can be found here. The latest provider alert requires registered providers to use a specific form to notify the Commission of any change or event specified in section 13 or 13A that relates to the impact of COVID 19, including the impact on a participant to whom you have been providing supports to or a worker being diagnosed with the virus.

NSW Health Guidance for Community-based and outpatient health services

Guidance for community-based and outpatient health services has been published on the NSW Ministry of Health website and can be found here. While not specific to community mental health organisations, it may be useful.

Public health recommendations related to the risk of COVID-19 infection have been issued for people who meet specific risk criteria. Refer to Department of Health – COVID-19: Countries and regions considered to pose a risk of transmission for up-to-date advice on the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

If the consumer/client has fever or acute respiratory illness, ask that they seek health advice (from their GP or by calling Healthdirect hotline on 1800 022 222) to exclude COVID-19 as well as to resolve any other health issues.

NSW Health Contractual Obligations

Members concerned about their service delivery contracts should contact their contract managers to discuss any issues. The Ministry of Health have indicated they will be reasonable about the impact of COVID 19 on contractual requirements and organisations should keep information and data about any impact. The Ministry are currently drafting further advice, and this will be distributed a soon as it is available.

The following issues have also been identified which will be the subject of further advice when available:

  • Personal Protective Equipment availability and ongoing supply
  • Transportation of clients to essential appointments
  • Workforce and sustainability implications as a result of the coronavirus
  • Consumers and providers access to technology to support online delivery of services
  • Resources for CMOs and the workforce
Current Australian government advice

The Department of Health’s website provides the latest information and advice about coronavirus. The website provides up to date and detailed information on travel restrictions and isolation requirements for individuals who may have been exposed to coronavirus.

For employers, this raises questions about work, health and safety obligations and dealing responsibly with affected employees. Organisations must follow current government advice, which is fluid as the handling of coronavirus develops, and manage employee leave requests and appropriate work arrangements for those affected (this may include parents or carers who have to take leave to look after children isolated from childcare or school).

MHCC is here to support our members – these are difficult and uncertain times and together we will get through it. Please don’t hesitate to contact MHCC on askus@mhcc.org.au should you have questions or require further assistance.

Carmel Tebbutt
CEO MHCC
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[1] HealthOne NSW is a Commonwealth-funded general practice and state-funded primary and community health care services together. Other health and social care providers may also be involved in for example pharmacists, public dental services, private allied health professionals, other government agencies and non-government organisations.


Information updates on the coronavirus

Information updates on the coronavirus are available on the following websites:

Prime Ministers latest announcement on mental health support
https://www.pm.gov.au/media/11-billion-support-more-mental-health-medicare-and-domestic-violence-services-0

Department of Health provides up to date and detailed information on travel restrictions and isolation requirements
https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert

WHO website provides information and guidance from WHO regarding the current outbreak of the coronavirus disease.
https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Health NSW – Frequently asked questions – Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/alerts/Pages/coronavirus-faqs.aspx

Fair Work Ombudsman provides information about employment obligations when dealing with coronavirus in the workplace​​​​​​​
https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media-releases/website-news/coronavirus-and-australian-workplace-laws

Updates from the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. It includes a link to a training module on infection prevention and control​​​​​​​
https://www.ndiscommission.gov.au/resources/coronavirus-covid-19-information

Updates from the NDIS​​​​​​​
https://www.ndis.gov.au/coronavirus

Coronavirus Hotlines
Healthdirect offers a 24-hour phone service for anyone who needs extra information or the steps to take if they suspect they might be affected by the coronavirus. Before calling up, it’s best to check the healthdirect website  for details and symptoms of the virus to see if they match up with your own and if you’re confident, call up the hotline on 1800 022 222.

For general information on the coronavirus, you can call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.  The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Other websites with useful information for employees

Beyondblue – looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak

Looking after your mental health during coronavirus outbreak (UK Mental Health Foundation)
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak

Coronavirus office closures – Expert guide when working from home
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/04/coronavirus-office-closures-expert-guide-work-from-home

What is the difference between coronavirus and the flu
https://www.smartclinics.com.au/what-is-the-difference-between-coronavirus-and-the-flu/

eMHprac – factsheet on government-funded online, phone and app-based mental health support services
https://www.emhprac.org.au/resource/managing-your-mental-health-online-during-covid-19