Psychologists Board > For Registered Practitioners > Covid 19

Covid 19

Government announcement 23 March 2022

On 23 March the Prime Minister announced changes to the COVID-19 Protection Framework. From 11.59pm April 4 vaccine mandates will be removed for some workers, including education.  They however will remain for health practitioners.  Please note if you are an educational psychologist, that you are classed as a health practitioner and the vaccine mandate will still apply to you.

Update to Mandatory Vaccination order

Changes to the Mandatory Vaccination Order came into force at 11.59pm Sunday 23 January 2022. 

These changes require health practitioners to be:

  • Fully vaccinated AND have received the booster OR
  • Have a valid exemption 

Practitioners must have had their booster by 15 February 2022 or by six months from the end of the primary vaccination course.

If the mandated date of your booster dose falls before the date your vaccinate booster shot is due, you are not required to get your booster until you reach the six-month threshold, however you are eligible from four months after the completion of your primary vaccine course.

Protection Framework (traffic light system) 17 December 2021

The New Zealand government has published the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Protection Framework) Order 2021.  This Order sets out the requirements of the new COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic light system) which Aotearoa New Zealand moved to the  on the 3rd December 2021.

The Ministry of Health has also released a flowchart for determining how to operate, including the use of Vaccination Certificates.

What does this mean for psychologists? 

Psychologists can operate under all levels of the traffic light system and are still required to meet certain requirements, including requirements to display QR codes, maintain contact tracing records. In addition to the requirements specified in the Order, infection prevention control precautions remain the primary mechanism to protect yourself and the people you see.  

Clinical reasoning and risk assessment remain the fundamental principles for considering care and whether a psychologist sees a client kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (with the appropriate processes in place) or remotely.  

Vaccination certificates

To ensure that New Zealanders can access essential health services, some health services are prohibited from requiring vaccination certificates or vaccination. These health services must not deny access to premises or provision of goods and services on vaccination grounds. The health services that are subject to this prohibition are health services that are partly or wholly funded by certain government entities.  These health services are subject to the rules that apply to “designated premises” under the order.’ 

Designated Premises include premises of health services that are partly or wholly funded by

  1. the Ministry of Health:
  2. Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children:
  3. the Ministry of Social Development:
  4. the Department of Corrections:
  5. a district health board:
  6. Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand:
  7. the Accident Compensation Corporation

What does this mean? This means if a psychologist receives partial or whole public funding for any of their work they are defined as a ‘designated premises’ and may not request a COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate or other evidence of being vaccinated.

Risk assessment will help psychologists  decide whether they see the client kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (with the appropriate processes in place) or work remotely via telehealth.  As a reminder, the Ministry of Health has released a position statement on the management of unvaccinated individuals in healthcare settings.

If a psychologist does not receive public funding, they may be able to require Vaccination Certificates as an entry requirement to their premises.  Risk assessment will help a psychologist decide whether they see the client kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (with the appropriate processes in place) or work remotely via telehealth.

The Ministry is of the view that in most cases, with vaccinated staff and other precautions in place, that the risks are unlikely to be high enough to provide sufficient justification to not follow the Health and Disability Commissioner (Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights) Regulations 1996. In other words, denying access to health care on the basis of vaccination status is unacceptable.  This means that health practitioners cannot deny care based solely on vaccination status, ‘restrictions to access to health care must be informed by a risk assessment, and the onus is upon the provider to justify that the risks are sufficiently high to support those restrictions.’ i.e., work remotely via telehealth. 

Can I choose not to see unvaccinated patients for face-to-face appointments?

Under the Order psychologists are no longer able to deny access into designated premises based on vaccination status.

Importantly, patients may be denied access to services for other good reasons, which may include health and safety requirements of the service e.g., mask wearing, concerns following a COVID screening questionnaire, apparent Covid-19 symptoms, recent contact with Covid-19 infected people, or inappropriate or abusive behaviour by the patient or their support persons.

What precautions do I need to take under the Protection Framework?

Infection protection control (IPC) precautions are the primary mechanism to protect yourself, your colleagues, and your patients. Clinical reasoning and risk assessment remain fundamental principles when considering how to provide face to face appointments.
It is recommended that phycologists continue with the following:

  • screening for COVID-19 symptoms prior to face-to-face appointment
  • infection prevention control measures including PPE where required
  • transmission precaution measures including consideration of ventilation

Face coverings

Under schedule 6 and 7 of the Order (cl 23):
Person must comply with face covering rule in specified premises or circumstance:
(f) when on the premises of a health service other than a pharmacy, but only if the person is not a patient or worker of the health service.

While the Order does not require mask wearing by patients you may elect to require mask wearing on the premises as part of a risk assessment and management protocol.

Disclaimer

This is a brief summary of the current rules as we understand them. You should refer to the Order at the link provided above and consult the Ministry of Health for more detailed information. Please note that the advice we provide is general in nature and is not a substitute for legal advice. You should seek advice from a lawyer should you wish to understand how the rules apply to your specific circumstances.

Important update regarding the Mandatory Vaccination Order and Exemption process

Please find here an updated information sheet on Mandatory Vaccination Orders and the Exemption process.

Requests for vaccination exemptions

Please find here an information sheet regarding requests for vaccination exemptions.

How to Practice under Level 3

Please find here an information sheet on how to practice under Alert Level 3 in a non-DHB setting.

Mandatory Vaccination Order

Please find here an information sheet regarding the mandatory vaccination order for Psychologists.

Updated Level 3 guidance for non-DHB settings

The Ministry of Health has updated the guidance information for Allied health providers in non-DHB settings. 

Updated guidance for level 3 is available here for use when considering how to provide services.  

We will update with further information when it comes to hand.

With kind regards / Ngā mihi, nā

Kylie Hooper
General Manager/Registrar

Covid 19 update – mandatory vaccination

The government announced yesterday that under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021, anyone conducting high-risk work in the health and disability sector need to be fully vaccinated by 1 December 2021.  We have sought clarification regarding this, in particular what this means for those in private practice and will advise as soon as we have been updated. Please visit here for the government announcement.

With kind regards / Ngā mihi, nā

Kylie Hooper
General Manager/Registrar

Advice for Practice at Level 3 – 5 October 2021

The latest information from the Ministry regarding level 3 and what this means for you can be found here and here

Virtual appointments should be provided where possible as the preferred method of service delivery. There is provision for face-to-face appointments if required for urgent care as defined by the Ministry of Health. The psychologist must use their judgement in relation to the circumstances of any clients they wish to work with as to whether or not the client meets one or more of the criteria for urgent care. All required public health protocols must be followed, including use of Personal Protective Equipment to meet current Ministry of Health guidelines.

Urgent care for community allied health is defined as:

  • a condition which is life or limb threatening; or
  • treatment required to maintain the basic necessities of life; or
  • treatment that cannot be delayed or carried out remotely without risk of significant harm or permanent and/or significant  disability, or
  • where failure to access services will lead to an acute deterioration of a known condition; or
  • where delay in access to services will impact the consumer’s ability to maintain functional independence and significantly negatively impact quality of life

AND

  • which cannot be delivered by a service which is currently operating or by clinicians that are already in contact with the patient for ongoing care.

If you have any questions please email the Senior psychology adviser, Ann Connell at ann.connell@nzpb.org.nz

Ngā mihi, nā

Kylie Hooper
General Manager/Registrar

Update on the use of face masks – 24 September 2021

The Ministry has considered concerns that have been put forward to them regarding the use of face masks in Level 2 and have provided us with the following advice:

“In response to the Government, the Ministry of Health has set out to provide guidance to support the health providers to deliver their services. This guidance is based on up-to-date scientific evidence and is termed as ‘recommendations’ for actions that ‘should’ be undertaken to:

  • Protect others
  • Protect ourselves
  • Reduce transmission
  • Ensure consumer health and wellbeing.

This guidance is given regardless of the setting / environment or context.

For private practitioners the Ministry recommends the wearing of masks. However, it is up to the individual practitioners in their individual settings and context to decide whether to wear masks. We acknowledge where practitioners are employed by DHBs they will be required to align to the DHB response framework and guidance on mask wearing.”

Note that the wording of the information has been changed to recommend rather than must and provides opportunity for the individual to use their own judgement. I hope that this clarifies the situation for you but please contact us if you have any further questions.

Ngā mihi, nā

Kylie Hooper
General Manager/Registrar

Update on the use of face masks – 22 September 2021

We understand there are questions and concerns regarding the use of masks and the recent updates we have provided. Thank you to those who have raised these concerns and have submitted detail regarding the complexities and limitations that the current advice from the Ministry has created.  We have presented these to MOH and they are currently considering these concerns.  An update will be provided as soon as we have further information.

Ngā mihi, nā

Kylie Hooper
General Manager/Registrar

Level 2 advice – Use of face coverings

Kia ora

I understand that many practitioners have had further questions regarding the use of face coverings in their work during Level 2. Thank you for your patience while we have sought to gain further clarification from the Ministry of Health for practitioners outside the Auckland area working under Level 2. 

The Ministry of Health has advised that any location where work is performed by a psychologist is considered a health care setting. This includes private practice rooms. As such, all practitioners must wear a mask in Level 2.

Additionally, clients must also wear masks when visiting a healthcare setting however are not required to wear a face covering if they have a physical or mental health illness or condition or disability that makes wearing a face covering unsuitable.

Please refer to the following links for further information on wearing a face covering:

As indicated by the advice from the Ministry last week, Telehealth and virtual appointments are still the preferred option. 

Ngā mihi, nā

Kylie Hooper
General Manager/Registrar

Latest COVID Alert Level 2 update – 7 September 2021

We have received advice from the Ministry of Health regarding Level 2 stating that providing services via remote contact should be considered in the first instance and then if in person, that guidance is followed as per PPE and environmental precautions provided.

They have issued the following statement which can be found here:

The main message is that clinical reasoning and risk assessment remain the fundamental principles for considering care at Alert Level 2. Telehealth and virtual appointments are still the preferred option and please exercise extra caution when treating vulnerable groups.

Clinicians will be able to see patients face to face if the following processes are in place:

  • screening for COVID-19 symptoms prior to face-to-face appointment
  • physical distancing measures
  • Infection prevention control measures including PPE where required
  • Transmission precaution measures including consideration of ventilation.

When considering travel within and between regions ensure all risks have been taken into account before undertaking to provide care to patients and traveling to receive training.

Use of Masks

Alert 2 focuses on being vigilant with physical distancing, contact tracing and maintaining hygiene standards. Please refer to the following government advice regarding the use of masks.  If you are unable to maintain appropriate physical distancing you would be strongly encouraged to wear a mask as per the guidelines below:

What Alert Level 2 means for you.

Wearing a face covering.

Working Safely at Alert Level 2.

Latest update Tuesday 31 August 2021

As was confirmed by the Prime Minister yesterday Auckland and Northland region will remain at Alert Level 4 for two more weeks with the remainder of the country moving to Level 3 on Tuesday 31 August 2021 at 11.59pm

The latest information from the Ministry regarding level 3 and what this means for you can be found here and here

The main points are that virtual appointments should be provided where possible as the preferred method of service delivery. Face-to-face appointments may be provided for urgent care only so long as clinicians can take appropriate measures to manage public health.

Urgent care for community allied health is defined as:

  • a condition which is life or limb threatening; or
  • treatment required to maintain the basic necessities of life; or
  • treatment that cannot be delayed or carried out remotely without risk of significant harm or permanent and/or significant  disability, or
  • where failure to access services will lead to an acute deterioration of a known condition; or
  • where delay in access to services will impact the consumer’s ability to maintain functional independence and significantly negatively impact quality of life

AND

  • which cannot be delivered by a service which is currently operating or by clinicians that are already in contact with the patient for ongoing care.

If you have any questions please email the Senior psychology adviser, Ann Connell at ann.connell@nzpb.org.nz

MOH Policy for students completing training placements or face-to-face training assessments during Covid – 19

Please refer to the following link for details on the Ministry of Health’s policy for students completing training placements/face-to-face assessments during Covid 19.

Psychological Practice under Alert Level 4

On Tuesday 17th August 2021, the Government announced that New Zealand would move to Alert Level 4, effective as of 11:59 pm.

The Ministry of Health has set out its expectations for Allied Health, Scientific and Technical Service Provisions. Please refer to the following link for details.   You may also wish to refer to their website for further information.

If you have any questions please email the Senior psychology adviser, Ann Connell at ann.connell@nzpb.org.nz

Other useful information:

Telepsychology and TeleNeuropsychology (under review)

The Board and the professional associations have partnered to respond to a number of questions about the ethics and practicalities of delivering psychology and neuropsychology services via remote or telehealth means during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Please see the FAQs for those questions and answers.  If your concern is not addressed there please email ann.connell@nzpb.org.nz

If you are within an acute or essential service meeting with clients in person, please review the Ministry of Health’s advice on minimising the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in your workplace.

Telepsychology resources (under review):

The Australian Psychological Society has a useful link on its website: Principles for choosing videoconferencing technology.  The underlying principles in the Board’s 2012 The Practice of Telepsychology also remain relevant. The NZ Telehealth Forum & Resource Centre has excellent guidance including on security and technical matters.

APA COVID-19 tele-assessment principles developed by A. Jordan Wright, Joni L. Mihura, Hadas Pade, and David M. McCord and approved by the SPA Board. April 3 2020.

COVID 19 resources

The New Zealand Psychological Society and New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists have both compiled COVID-19 Resources.

The NZ Health Quality and Safety Commission Resource Hub includes sections for people working in health during the pandemic, Hauora Māori resources, Wellbeing resources and Leadership resources

Client confidentiality, privacy and contact tracing

Several psychologists have asked about how to manage client confidentiality and  privacy in the event that the psychologist is diagnosed with COVID-19 and contact tracing needs to be undertaken by Public Health officials, and what their responsibilities are to their clients. The Board has obtained legal advice on this question.  That advice is that a psychologist who has tested positive for Covid19 can disclose client or patient information to the appropriate public health body for the purpose of contact tracing or other public health measures:

If you are affected, in the first instance, the appropriate public health authority that you should contact will be Healthline (Ministry of Health) or your local DHB’s public health unit.  The health authority will tell you what patient information you will need to disclose, but you must not disclose any information beyond what is requested. This information is likely to be limited to the patient’s name and contact details, and when (e.g. date/time) and for how long you were in contact with the patient. It is important that you:

(1) do not disclose patient information to any person or body other than the appropriate public health body; and

(2) do not disclose more information than is necessary to enable the health authority to take appropriate steps.

After you have contacted the public health authority, you also have an obligation, where possible, to contact the patients that you have provided information about to the authority. The potential exposure to Covid19 is something that is relevant to your obligations of open disclosure and the therapeutic relationship with the patient.  By contacting the patient you will help to reduce any alarm or distress that the patient may feel if that are ‘cold-called’ by the public health authorities without any forewarning. 

If the public health authority requests you to provide information about the patients that you have recently had contact with, you must comply with that request and disclose the patient information.

The Ministry of Health and Office of the Privacy Commissioner also provide information and resources on contact tracing.