Redeployment of speech pathologists during the COVID-19 pandemic

Speech Pathology Australia (the Association) is aware that members may be required by their employer to redeploy to an alternative area of practice. This direction may result from increased demand for clinical care staff, changes to staffing levels, and the need to maximise the available number of skilled health professionals to support the Australian health system to meet the needs of patients with COVID-19.

Speech pathology services for people with communication and /or swallowing difficulties during COVID-19

Speech pathologists are university trained autonomous health professionals, who have comprehensive knowledge and understanding of communication and swallowing, and communication and swallowing needs and difficulties, throughout the lifespan. Speech pathologists support every individual’s right to optimal communication and swallowing. Any person requiring speech pathology services during the COVID-19 pandemic should have access to appropriate levels of service to meet their need.

Principles underpinning redeployment of speech pathologists

To support maintenance of access to speech pathology services, decisions regarding re-deployment of speech pathologists away from usual speech pathology service provision roles must be considered carefully and should be informed by the following principles:

Prioritisation of speech pathology services

Prioritisation is required to identify patient cohorts that should continue to receive services, so that re-deployment does not have significant detrimental effects on people with communication and/or swallowing needs.

The Association considers that speech pathologists should not be redeployed from critical teams where patients have significant restrictions on the ability to communicate health needs and preferences for treatment or have swallowing difficulties that pose significant risk of morbidity or mortality.

Sufficient speech pathologists should remain in their existing roles to sustain prioritised services, where risks of not delivering that service would be high, notwithstanding that the nature and delivery of the service may change.

Utilisation of speech pathology skills and expertise

Speech pathologists ensure accessible communication for those with cognitive and communication difficulties. Speech pathologists have skills to provide information and education for people experiencing difficulties with both understanding information and expressing themselves, particularly those who may require support and reasonable adjustments to maximise their involvement and engagement with information about COVID-19 and what social isolation and social distancing actually mean.

Redeployment of speech pathologists into non speech pathology roles

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Australia, it may be necessary for some speech pathologists to be redeployed into other roles. Speech Pathologists should be redeployed into roles that maximise use of their high-level communication and education and training skills.

Appropriate training and support

The Association requires all members to comply with the Code of Ethics including the obligations to hold appropriate qualifications and practice professionally within the scope of their level of education, training and expertise.

If a speech pathologist is requested to undertake activities outside the scope of practice for a speech pathologist, or outside their current personal competencies, then the Association would consider it necessary for the requesting authority to provide an appropriate clinical governance framework. Such a framework would provide relevant training, support, including direct supervision, and proof of competency.

An excellent example of an appropriate clinical governance framework which could be adopted is the Allied Health Clinical Governance Framework published by Queensland Health.

Speech pathologists should use their expertise and clinical judgement to advise the employer where they believe they are being asked to engage in unsafe or ineffective practice.

Vulnerable speech pathologists

The Association recognises that some speech pathologists have personal vulnerabilities and should be supported to utilise their clinical expertise in ways that do not place them at increased risk.