Gosh, life for most of us has changed in a very small space of time. Life feels overwhelming, with planning for and responding to the COVID-19 crisis. This has led to very significant changes in our health system and how we practice psychiatry. At the risk of overwhelming people with more information, we hoped it would be helpful to write and update you from the local College perspective. We know that the President has been sending weekly updates to all members and those of us working in the public health system have also had an extraordinary amount of information regarding planning for the health response.
Many of us have faced a rapid learning curve around the use of video technology, to provide mental health appointments for our patients, in order to reduce face-to-face contact and lower the risk of spreading the virus. The College has been advocating, on a Federal Government level, support for item numbers for telehealth and telephone review of psychiatric patients. Work is continuing to secure telehealth/telephone item numbers for new patients. We know that the College and the AMA SA continue to advocate with the Department of Health to improve accessibility for offering these services to our clients. There are of course some patients who do not have access to technology or the internet, who will still require face-to-face appointments, particularly in the public health system. We are well aware of the need to try and support our patients and reduce exacerbation of mental health difficulties to try and avoid emergency department presentations and reduce inpatient admissions; but there will be many patients feeling isolated and vulnerable with the risk of becoming more unwell.
On a local level, there have been significant changes at the SA Branch. All meetings previously undertaken in the SA Branch Office have been placed on hold until further notice. Meetings will now take place either via video conference or teleconference. Trudy and Matt are both working from home but are still able to answer phone calls (awaiting Telstra redirection) and provide support and advice if you have any queries. Whilst information is coming out from the broader College, we would like the SA Branch to still be accessible for our members and we are happy to provide support and advice where we can.
At this time of increased anxiety, it’s important to remember compassion both for ourselves and others. We know that many people will feel under financial stress or have concerns regarding their health or the health of loved ones. We hope that you do have supports available to connect with, to help manage the impact of this issue. It’s important to stay connected even when practicing self-isolation, and to continue to look after one’s own health. We need to prioritise time away from work and try to have a break from the constant media attention around COVID-19 in order to look after ourselves and avoid burnout. We know that some of our medical colleagues are likely to be under significantly increased pressure and stress over the next few months and Trudy wrote to members recently regarding a call by Doctors Health SA (DHSA) , seeking psychiatrists willing to see doctors with mental health difficulties. I would like to pass on sincere thanks, on behalf of Dr Roger Sexton, Medical Director, Doctors’ Health SA, to our members who have offered to provide support to fellow clinicians at this time. If you can help please contact Trudy or DHSA (firstname.lastname@example.org Ph: 08 8232 1250).
It’s likely that the mental health needs of the community will increase in the next few months as a result of the changes due to COVID-19. There are higher rates of unemployment, more stress on families, and it is pleasing that the government has started to develop a package to provide extra care and support for this growing burden of mental health disorder.
Some members have expressed concern about the capacity to manage CPD requirements and this has been forwarded to the College. It will be difficult to obtain points for self-directed learning with no conference or workshop activity, but the College have suggested that members access online CPD modules, however, it may be difficult to prioritise this due to other demands. We are disappointed that upcoming CME events, that were to be held at the Branch, are on hold but hope that there may be some return to normality and the capacity to meet again towards the end of this year. Peer-review groups need to change, and many will have already moved to using video conferencing to connect. It is likely that the College will release an update regarding CPD requirements for this year over the coming weeks.
Those working in the public system will be aware that there has been a significant impact on trainees. COVID-19 has seen the cancellation of the April OSCE exam and uncertainty regarding future exams scheduled for this year. We acknowledge the impact this may have on many trainees, and their anxiety and distress around uncertainty regarding progress. I’m sure supervisors across the state are keeping these trainees in mind.
The SA Branch has had to change some of our advocacy priorities. The State Budget has been postponed along with the rollout of the SA Strategic Mental Health Services plan. If members do notice issues of concern, we would be pleased to hear from you. Matt Hee, Policy and Advocacy Advisor (Matt.Hee@ranzcp.org) , would be keen to do some further advocacy work, given that some areas of focus are on hold at present.
The call for nominations to join the SA Branch committee has occurred, and unfortunately there will be some vacancies on the committee. If you have any interest to help support the work of the SA Branch, please contact Trudy. It’s also understandable that many of us may feel at capacity with managing our work and home lives at present and for the next few months we may need to accept that commitment to College activities is less of a priority. Nominations will close on 15 April 2020.
I hope that you and your family are keeping well and doing what you can to support yourselves, colleagues and our vulnerable patients at this difficult time. Please be in touch with our Branch if you think that we can assist you, or others in the community, in any way.