Coronavirus: Various allied health services, including psychology and social work, reclassified as essential

This includes rehabilitation or therapy services, and other allied health services. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - With the extension of the circuit breaker to June 1, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has re-categorised allied health services outside of the public healthcare institutions as essential services, effective from Wednesday (April 29).

This includes rehabilitation or therapy services, and other allied health services such as dietetics, social work, psychology and podiatry.

The ministry said on Tuesday 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 to prioritise face-to-face consultations for patients whose condition may significantly or rapidly deteriorate and thus potentially threaten their health and well being, if they do not receive the therapy or treatment.

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 urged service providers to deliver their services through tele-consultation where possible to reduce the risk of patient exposure to Covid-19.

The announcement comes after various groups and individuals from allied health services have, in recent weeks, advocated for their work to be reinstated as essential as clients would be adversely impacted if confined to tele-consultation, including through forum letters to The Straits Times.

The Singapore Psychological Society said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that practitioners on the Singapore Register of Psychologists who wish to continue operating should check their e-mails on Tuesday for further instructions on submitting hours to keep their clinics or centres open.

It said practitioners will only be allowed to open for no more than four consecutive hours a day and no more than five days a week.

The society emphasised that psychological services are important and that mental health service users should be protected, noting that there has been increased attention in the media regarding psychological consultation and treatment amid Covid-19.

Dr Shawn Ee, director of The Psychology Practice, told ST that the move was welcomed and also a relief for him and his team of seven.

They had on Friday received an exemption to continue their services, but Tuesday's announcement assured them that they would be able to continue during the extended circuit breaker.

A tele-consulting setting can be disorienting for a client, said Dr Ee, who is also a psychoanalytic therapist.

He noted that for some people, it may be difficult for them to feel safe even when they are physically at a centre. So, doing a consultation through video conferencing can be even harder for them.

"We felt that we were unable to do our jobs properly to support our clients in the way we know how, though at the same time respecting the possibility and risk of community transmission," said Dr Ee.

"For our clients, hearing that we are now essential sort of feels like their needs are being respected as well. Many of them have reported being more depressed and anxious during this period, especially after the circuit breaker was extended."

Dr Ee said his practice would continue to evaluate if the health risks of face-to-face consultations outweigh the benefits to clients before proceeding.

United Rehabilitation and Physiotherapy Centre's principal physiotherapist Lau Ai Ni said Tuesday's announcement was "definitely a very good move, especially for patients".

For some patients, the benefits of face-to-face physiotherapy could outweigh the risk of infection, as they require urgent physiotherapy to prevent unnecessary and debilitating complications.

For example, a patient who was recovering from surgery after a bone fracture would need a physiotherapist to help them move the joint to prevent stiffness, said Ms Lau. If they were to do it on their own, untrained, it could result in the bone not healing normally.

One of her patients struggled with tele-rehab to the point that Ms Lau advised him not to continue, as he was in more pain than before.

She added that with therapy services being categorised as essential services, she still has to carefully consider the need for face-to-face sessions with patients, and be mindful of safe distancing and hygiene measures.

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