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Health Bulletin (23 May 2018)

The latest insights from our Health Law team. 

In this edition:

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Federal government announces mandatory flu vaccines for aged care

The Australian government has recently announced that flu vaccinations will be compulsory for all staff in residential aged care facilities ahead of this year’s flu season. The announcement comes following research showing a significant link between greater staff immunisation and lower rates of flu outbreaks in aged care facilities.

A national survey was completed in 2017 which revealed that only 3.5 of residential aged care facilities had the recommended coverage of 95% or more staff being immunised against the flu. With 43% of providers reporting at least one flu outbreak last year, this announcement comes as an important reminder of the need to try and protect those most vulnerable against the flu.

Read the government’s media release here.

Pharmacist loses defamation case

A pharmacist convicted of six offences for failure to maintain a register in relation to dispensing oxycodone and fentanyl, failure to make an inventory of drugs of addiction and failure to keep the safe containing Schedule 8 drugs locked has lost a long running defamation case against the Pharmacy Board of Australia ("Board").

After being convicted for all charges in a Western Australian Magistrates’ Court, the pharmacist was fined and ordered to pay costs. He was then made subject to conditions on his registration by the Board, which were published on the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency's register of practitioners. The first condition stated:

“[My Nyoni] is prohibited from taking or self administering Schedule 8 drugs, save for those that may be legally prescribed to him.”

The pharmacist alleged that he had been defamed by the inclusion of the first condition on the publically available register, claiming the condition was “particularly provocative and insensitive” and that it had caused him to be unsuccessful in a number of job applications.

While the Federal Court found that the condition did carry imputations which Mr Nyoni alleged were defamatory because they had a tendency to lower the esteem in which he was held in his practice as a pharmacist, the Court also found that the Board’s defence of absolute privilege was established as the work of the notifications committee which imposed the condition was quasi-judicial and therefore not subject to defamation proceedings.

Read the judgment here.

E-cigarettes lose puff in public places

New South Wales has introduced legislation to curb vaping and smoking of e-cigarettes in public places. 

The Smoke-free Environment Amendment Bill 2018, which comes into effect in July, amends the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 and the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008. The changes will result in the regulation of vaping products, also known as ‘heat-not-burn’ products and other e-cigarettes being brought into line with the regulation of ordinary tobacco products.

If these products are used in contravention of the Act, users could face fines of up to $550.00 according to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Similar changes have already been implemented in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT. Despite the lack of addictive nicotine in most of these products, medical evidence does not support the idea that e-cigarettes are healthier than cigarettes. According to the NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, some of these products can contain chemicals, toxins and metals, some of which are known to cause cancer.

Read the Bill and Explanatory Memorandum here.

Australian Bureau of Statistics – Patient Experiences in Australia

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released the results of the 2016-17 Patient Experience Survey, which collected data on access and barriers to a range of health care services.

The results showed that the proportion of people waiting longer than they felt acceptable for a GP appointment has decreased from 23% in 2013-14 to 18% in 2016-17. However, of the people who needed to see a GP in the last 12 months, one in twenty five (4%) delayed seeing or did not see a GP at least once due to cost.

People surveyed were even more likely to delay seeing a dental professional or did not see one at all due to cost (18%). Those living in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage were more than twice as likely to delay seeing or to not see a dental professional due to cost than those living in areas of least disadvantage (26% compared with 11%).

The results of the Survey are of value to both users of health services and those aiming to improve the health system, as barriers to accessing services impedes the best possible health outcomes.

To find out more on the Survey, click here.

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