The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has again called for a more systematic approach to health and safety at high risk inpatient settings after the temporary closure of a psychiatric facility in Victoria.
The renewed call comes after confirmed COVID-19 cases amongst staff and patients associated with the clinic led to the transfer of patients to The Alfred hospital and Victorian health authorities announced an investigation into the outbreak.
The RANZCP President, Associate Professor John Allan affirmed that the health and safety of all patients and healthcare workers including psychiatrists in high risk settings needed to be prioritised during COVID-19.
‘We have long known that staff, health professionals and patients who are in high risk inpatient settings and in close proximity to each other for extended periods of time, are very vulnerable.
‘Many psychiatrists work at multiple sites and facilities, for example hospitals (in both general and psychiatric settings), private practice, detention centres, prisons and public mental health services, and this increases their risk of infection and possible transmission of COVID-19.
‘It is of great concern that there is so much variability in how many of these facilities operate and the health and safety measures they have in place,’ said Associate Professor Allan.
‘Inpatients with severe mental illness are also more likely to have significant physical health conditions, be less able to act on the information health authorities have provided and have poorer awareness of physical distance and boundaries.
Earlier this month, the RANZCP urged governments to prioritise National agreement and standards on the use of PPE in a broad range of high risk situations and asked for more explicit guidance on what is considered safe practice for all doctors who must interact face-to-face with patients.
‘It is not just those health professionals commonly recognised as on the frontline of this pandemic who need protection, there are other healthcare workers like psychiatrists and nurses who may also be in need of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to continue providing their essential service to the public.
‘We acknowledge the pandemic has placed increased pressure on all professionals in the health care workforce, including psychiatrists.
Associate Professor Allan emphasised that all necessary precautions should be taken against COVID-19 at all times, and in every situation.
‘No matter the logistics, such as with issues of supply, or the resources required to act quickly on these matters, the safety of patients, psychiatrists, trainees and all healthcare workers should be paramount.’
‘Where cases of COVID-19 are confirmed, these need to be managed effectively, transparently and in a timely manner with good communication to prevent further infections and disease clusters from developing – we encourage the use of the COVIDSafe app to support health authority tracing efforts in such circumstances.’
The RANZCP has reached out to Victorian health authorities to seek further information and offer assistance where possible, and will continue to look into ways to support all of those impacted including other health professionals, people accessing mental health services and their families.
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For all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.