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Health Bulletin 4 June 2021

The latest insights from our Health Law team: 

Russell Kennedy Principal, Michael Gorton AM, leads Government Expert Advisory Group for new Mental Health Legislation

Australian Academy of Science launches guide about the science of immunisation

UnitingCare cyber attack

New guidelines for activity during pregnancy

TGA Advertising Code: Consultation

Commonwealth Bank acquires Whitecoat

Can employers make vaccinations and temperature checks mandatory in today’s climate?

If you'd like to stay up to date with Russell Kennedy's insights, please sign up here.


Russell Kennedy Principal, Michael Gorton AM, leads Government Expert Advisory Group for new Mental Health Legislation

Michael Gorton AM has been appointed the Chair of the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) to advise the Victorian Department of Health on drafting the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act for Victoria, which is a key outcome and recommendation of the recent Mental Health Royal Commission. A number of significant issues were flagged for the legislation by the Royal Commission, including new statutory bodies and changes to the policies and processes of the legislative framework.

The EAG has advised on an Engagement Paper to seek community views on key aspects of the legislation. You can read more about the EAG here.

For more information about the Mental Health Royal Commission, please click here for Russell Kennedy’s recent alert, and here for the Department website.


Australian Academy of Science launches guide about the science of immunisation

In response to a nearly 300% increase in online Australian anti-vaccination groups, the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) has launched a guide about immunisation and the science behind it.

Reports show that in recent times, there has been a rise in vaccine hesitancy in Australia, as well as a rise in participation in anti-vaccination online forums. Commonly, these forums explore themes including the safety and efficacy of vaccines, mandatory vaccine programs and the promotion of drugs like ivernectin and hydroxychloroquine.

“The Science of Immunisation” has been developed by the AAS in conjunction with the Department of Health. It contains contributions from an Expert Working Group consisting of medical researchers, doctors, government departments, and various health organisations such as the Australian Medical Association, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. 

The guide is a question and answer booklet which aims to deal with common misconceptions about immunisation and encourages people to make science-based decisions. It addresses questions such as “What is in a vaccine?”, “Are vaccines safe?” and “Who benefits from vaccines?” as well as providing definitions for commonly used terms associated with vaccination, including anaphylaxis, herd immunity and antigens.

The guide also demonstrates how the risks associated with vaccines are outweighed by the risks of the particular disease and discusses the careful testing undertaken of a vaccine before use by the public, as well as the ongoing monitoring of the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

To access the “Science of Immunisation” Guide, click here. To read more about it, click here.


UnitingCare cyber attack

On 6 May 2021, UnitingCare Queensland confirmed that its systems were hacked by REvil/Sodin, one of the most notorious cyber gangs in the world. The gang is linked to multiple attacks on high-profile victims, including Apple in which they threatened to release sensitive internal documents unless a $50 million ransom was paid.

As a result of the attack, some of UnitingCare's digital and technology systems had been left inaccessible. UnitingCare runs the Wesley and St Andrew's hospitals in Brisbane, St Stephen's Hospital in Hervey Bay and the Buderim Private Hospital on the Sunshine Coast, and numerous aged care and disability services throughout the state.

My Health Record system, an online health operated by the Australian Digital Health Agency said it had stopped UnitingCare Queensland's access as a precautionary measure.

Last year, the Australian Digital Health Agency released a guide for practical steps to ensure digital self-defence and protect work and personal information against cyber attacks. The Agency’s six steps include:

  1. Build security awareness with the Digital Health Security Awareness eLearning course
  2. Keep your software up to date
  3. Use strong passwords and implement multi-factor authentication
  4. Back up your data regularly
  5. Do not respond to unsolicited phishing emails, texts and calls
  6. If you fall victim to ransomware, avoid paying the ransom.

Queensland's privacy commissioner Philip Green said the attack was not “unique and other hospitals have to be vigilant about that and other healthcare systems too, to avoid that from happening to themselves."

For more information about the notifiable data breaches scheme, click here or contact Russell Kennedy.


New guidelines for activity during pregnancy

New guidelines designed to provide ‘evidence-based best practice recommendations on physical activity/exercise during pregnancy for Australian women and those who provide healthcare during pregnancy’ have been released by the Department of Health (DoH) which recommend women should continue their pre-pregnancy exercise levels during their pregnancies where possible.

The new recommendations indicate that if the woman and developing baby are healthy then they should aim to meet the standard amount of physical and sedentary behaviour guidelines for adults. Women are recommended to build up to targeted activity with weekly totals of 2.5-5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 1.25–2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity activity.

Associate Professor Simonis, a member of the RACGP’s Expert Committee on Quality Care, noted the benefits of being active, including preventing excess weight gain and maintaining and building fitness levels. Under the guidelines pregnant women are advised to avoid activities with significant pressure changes as well as those activities with a risk of collision, falling and heavy lifting.

Click here for RACGP’s recent article on the guidelines, and here for a link to the Department of Health’s webpage on physical activity and exercise during pregnancy.


TGA Advertising Code: Consultation

The Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) is seeking feedback on the Therapeutic Good Advertising Code (No.2) 2018 (Code). Breaches of the Code can result in large fines against advertisers.

The Code is intended to ensure that the advertising of therapeutic goods does not contribute to or result in unsafe or improper use of products. The TGA has proposed amendments to the Code to assist advertisers to understand its requirements, whilst also minimising any unnecessary compliance costs. The proposed amendments are available here.

If you wish to provide a response to the TGA, you can do so here. The consultation opened on 7 May 2021 and will close on 18 June 2021.


Commonwealth Bank acquires Whitecoat

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has acquired Whitecoat, Australia's largest digital healthcare services directory. Whitecoat allows patients to locate and book appointments with over 300,000 health service providers. It also offers a digital payment and claims service for Medicare, private health insurance, and government schemes.

CBA will integrate Whitecoat’s payment and claims service into practice management platforms for healthcare practitioners which will improve the overall efficiency of the service. Patients will eventually be able to search for a healthcare practitioner, obtain quotes and manage appointments in the one place, and also pay and claim using both physical cards and via a mobile app.


Can employers make vaccinations and temperature checks mandatory in today’s climate?

Russell Kennedy’s expert Workplace Relations, Employment and Safety Team has released an Alert around the law relating to vaccinations in the workplace, that is fast-changing and highly fact-specific. As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout progresses, many employers are asking whether they can direct their employees to be vaccinated. At the time of writing this article, the general stance of both state and federal governments was that the COVID-19 vaccine would not be mandated for workers, however following the most recent outbreak in Victoria, the federal government is now reconsidering whether to mandate the vaccination for aged care workers.

So, in what circumstances can an employer direct an employee to receive a vaccine or comply with another health-related direction and in what circumstances can they be dismissed for refusing? Four recent decisions from the Fair Work Commission provide a snapshot of its current approach to the imposition of vaccination policies and other safety procedures. Read the full Alert here.


Learn more about Russell Kennedy's expertise in the Health sector here.

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