In this edition: peak health bodies focus on COVID-19 care, new frailty index, unlawful importation of medical face masks, WA border restrictions, AHPRA social research results, and in conversation with Peter Doherty.

The latest insights from our Health Law team:

Coalition of peak health bodies to focus on COVID-19 care

Introduction of new frailty index

TGA issues infringement notices with financial penalties for the unlawful importation of medical face masks

Federal Court hands down decision on Western Australia’s border restrictions

Social Research Results: AHPRA

In conversation with Peter Doherty

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Coalition of peak health bodies to focus on COVID-19 care

With funding support from the Commonwealth Department of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services and a number of philanthropic organisations, a taskforce of peak health bodies has been established to focus on clinical care of Australians suffering from COVID-19.

The taskforce has been established with input from 29 healthcare organisations, with its purpose to provide up-to-date evidence and clinical guidelines for the treatment of COVID-19, covering primary, acute and critical care.

The care guidelines developed by the taskforce are updated weekly as its numerous panels of experts meet to determine and revise care recommendations based on the most recent developments in evidence and research surrounding the treatment of COVID-19 and addressing queries and concerns of clinicians working on the frontline of Victoria’s pandemic response. There have been 46 recommendations published by the taskforce to date, covering a wide array of COVID-19 related matters, for example:

  • defining the severity of the disease in adults, children and adolescents;
  • disease-modifying treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, among others;
  • COVID-19 and pregnancy and perinatal care; and
  • respiratory support and management for patients.

To read more about the taskforce, click here. The guidelines may be accessed and questions submitted via the taskforce website, available here.

Introduction of new frailty index

The Registry of Senior Australians (ROSA) have developed and validated the new frailty index project, an index designed to improve aged-care and health outcomes in vulnerable older Australians. The index was developed using historical data involving more than 900,000 older Australians.

The information predicted by the use of the index is “extremely important information because frailty can be treated or prevented. Identifying risk enables timely treatment through relatively simple means such as diet and physical and mental exercises” said Dr Jyoti Khadka, who is leading the project.

Professor Renuka Visvanathan, a recognised expert in geriatric medicine, said use of the index can be incorporated into the more than 186,000 aged-care eligibility assessments currently performed each year by an aged-care assessment team.

Information on the development of the index can be viewed in the Medical Journal of Australia.

For information on the index, click here for a link to the relevant Hospital and Healthcare article.

TGA issues infringement notices with financial penalties for the unlawful importation of medical face masks

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has recently issued infringement notices against two organisations for the unlawful importation of medical face masks during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Pursuant to the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (the Act), all therapeutic goods must be entered into the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) before they can be imported into Australia. There are a number of exemptions to this ruling, including the purchase of specific therapeutic goods to supply the National Medical Stockpile. However, even where an exemption applies, the conditions under that exemption must be complied with.

A Sydney based healthcare provider, GenesisCare, was found to have imported KN95 face masks in relation to the COVIC-19 pandemic. At the time, the masks were not registered under the ARTG and did not fall under an exemption. GenesisCare were therefore in breach of the Act and fined $12,600.

Similarly, Brisbane based company Cordelia International imported medical face masks, which were found to be in breach of the Act. Cordelia was fined $13,320.

The TGA has commented that breaches of the Act are of significant concern in the current environment and both cases highlight the TGA’s willingness to take action against non-compliance.

For further information about how the TGA calculates the value of infringement notices, click here.

Federal Court hands down decision on Western Australia’s border restrictions

The Federal Court of Australia recently handed down its decisions on the utility and efficacy of Western Australia’s border restrictions in relation to the health risks posed by COVID-19 to the Western Australian community.

The proceedings were brought by businessman Clive Palmer and Mineralogy Pty Ltd against the State of Western Australia and its Commissioner of Police. The Attorneys-General for the Commonwealth and Queensland were interveners in the proceeding. Appearing for the three parties were five expert witnesses, including the Chief Health Officer of Western Australia, and four senior epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists.

Relying extensively on the evidence given by the five expert witnesses, Justice Rangiah decided that:

  • if COVID-19 were reintroduced into Western Australia, its transmission within the community may eventually be able to be controlled, but that by the time an outbreak was brought under control, there may be substantial health consequences;
  • the border restrictions have very substantially reduced the probability that COVID-19 will be imported into Western Australia from interstate;
  • the border restrictions offer a tangible and substantial layer of protection to the Western Australian community over the protection offered by other popular measures;
  • there would be a high probability of infectious persons travelling to and entering Western Australia from the rest of Australia if the border restrictions were removed;
  • because the extent of the risk cannot confidently be assessed and the consequences of an uncontrolled outbreak are potentially serious, from a public health perspective, the application of the precautionary principle is required;
  • the probability of importing COVID-19 into Western Australia under the existing border restrictions was low;
  • if either mandatory self-quarantining or mandatory hotel quarantining replaced the current border restrictions, there would be a substantially greater risk that interstate travellers would transmit COVID-19 into the Western Australian community; and
  • non-statewide, targeted quarantine regimes and hotspot regimes in other States and Territories with ongoing community transmission are less effective in preventing infected persons from travelling into Western Australia than that State’s existing border restrictions.

You can read the judgements here and here.

Social Research Results: AHPRA

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the National Medical Boards have released the second set of results from its annual survey of stakeholders for 2019.

AHPRA undertakes the anonymous survey through an independent consultant to inform how it can better engage with professionals and the community. The survey seeks to determine stakeholder:

  • Awareness and interest in AHPRA and the National Boards;
  • Perceptions of AHPRA and the National Boards; and
  • Assess the communication and engagement by AHPRA with practitioners.

AHPRA considers that the results were overall positive and intends to conduct a similar survey in 2020.

You can read more about the survey and its results here.

In conversation with Peter Doherty

VHA, in collaboration with their innovation partner One Passport, are hosting an interactive virtual conversation with Australia’s renowned immunology expert Peter Doherty, on Tuesday 22 September, 10am - 11am EDT.

Professor Doherty, who is a Nobel laureate and the patron of the Doherty Institute, will share his thoughts on COVID-19,the progression of both local and international vaccines, and the implications of the pandemic on our healthcare system. The webinar will also provide attendees with a platform to ask questions and participate in this discussion, spurred by Professor Doherty's views on the implications of the pandemic on healthcare.

For more information or to register click here.