From 12am today, non-essential visitors to hospitals in Queensland are prohibited, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Overnight on 26 March 2020, the Chief Health Officer of Queensland, Dr Jeanette Young published a Hospital Visitors Direction under the Public Health Act 2005 (Qld), prohibiting visits by non-essential visitors to hospitals in Queensland, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 (direction). These directions apply from 12am today and non-compliance is an offence.

The direction is similar to the restrictions placed on visiting residential aged care facilities earlier this week. A similar hospital visitor direction has been made in Victoria but in no other jurisdiction in Australia at the time of writing.

Prohibition on entry

Under the direction, a person must not enter, or remain at, a hospital in Queensland until the end of the public health emergency declared in relation to COVID-19 (currently until 19 May 2020), unless the person is:

  1. A patient of the hospital;
  2. A worker, as defined in the direction;
  3. A visitor, as defined in the direction; or
  4. Present in an area of the hospital which is subject to an exemption granted by the Chief Health Officer, in writing, exempting the specified area from the operation of the direction.

Importantly, although a person may fall into the categories of person above, they are not permitted to enter, or remain at, a hospital in Queensland if:

  1. The person has been diagnosed with COVID-19, unless they are no longer subject to a direction to self-isolate made under the Public Health Act 2005;
  2. The person is subject to a direction to self-isolate under the Public Health Act 2005;
  3. During the 14 days immediately preceding entry, the person arrived in Australia from a place outside Australia;
  4. During the 14 days immediately preceding entry, the person had known contact with a person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19;
  5. The person has a temperature equal to or higher than 37.5 degrees, or symptoms of acute respiratory infection; or
  6. The person is aged under 16 years, other than in circumstances where the person's presence at the premises is for the purposes of end of life support for a patient.

Hospital workers

Workers are defined in the direction as including employees or contractors of the hospital and also extends to students under the supervision of employees or contractors of the hospital.

The definition also encompasses persons who are present at the hospital for the following purposes:

  • Providing health, medical or pharmaceutical services to a patient of the hospital (including on a voluntary basis); and
  • Providing goods or services that are necessary for the effective operation of the hospital (including on a voluntary basis).

The direction expressly states that 'union and employer representatives' are included in the definition of workers.

Visitors to the hospital

A visitor to a hospital is defined as:

  1. In the case of a patient of the hospital under 18 years, the patient's parent or guardian or the person with temporary care of the patient;
  2. In the case of a patient of the hospital with disability, the patient's carer;
  3. In the case of a pregnant patient, when their hospital admission is related to the pregnancy, the patient's partner or support person;
  4. In the case of a patient attending the hospital's emergency department, a person accompanying the patient;
  5. In the case of a patient attending an outpatient appointment, a person accompanying the patient;
  6. A person whose presence at the hospital is for the purpose of end of life support; or
  7. A person whose presence at the hospital is for the purpose of a care and support visit.

A care and support visit is defined as a visit of no longer than two hours, made to the patient by one person or two persons together, for the purpose of providing care and support to the patient. A patient is only permitted to have one care and support visit per day, and no more than two visitors are permitted to visit a patient at any one time.

With the exception of a care and support visit, the direction does not impose any time limit on the other categories of visitors, however all visitors will remain subject to each hospital’s local operating procedure.

Does this apply to my facility?

The direction applies to all hospitals, meaning:

  • Hospitals as defined in the Hospital and Health Boards Act 2011 (meaning all public hospitals);
  • Private health facilities as defined in the Private Health Facilities Act 1999 (meaning private hospitals and day hospitals); and
  • Multi-purpose services as defined in the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth).

In short, the direction applies to all hospitals operating within Queensland.

The operator of a hospital in Queensland must take all reasonable steps to ensure that a person does not enter or remain on the premises of the hospital if the person is prohibited from doing so under the direction.

Implementing the new direction

The direction is in force at the time of writing, and it is essential that all hospitals in Queensland take all reasonable steps immediately to ensure the direction is complied with.

The direction applies to both persons who are non-compliant with the direction and operators of hospitals who do not take 'all reasonable steps' to ensure prohibited persons do not enter or remain on the premises of a hospital. Under the Public Health Act 2005, unless the person has a reasonable excuse, non-compliance with the direction is an offence, with a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units, being $13,345.00 for individuals, or $66,725.00 for a body corporate at the time of writing.