Summary of the 2017 changes to the Public Health Act.

Vaccination
Sexually transmitted infections
HIV
Environmental Health
Eyeball tattooing
Suppliers of drinking water
Objectives
Notification of certain diseases and conditions
Public health orders
Pap test register
Miscellaneous changes

Vaccination

From 1 January 2018 child care facilities will no longer be able to enrol a child who is unvaccinated due to the conscientious objections of their parents. A childcare facility will only be able to enrol a child who is fully vaccinated, on an approved catch up schedule or has a medical contraindication to vaccination. It will be an offence for a director of childcare to not comply. Certain categories of vulnerable children, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children in out of home care, will still be able to enrol but will have to provide their vaccination documentation within 12 weeks of enrolment.

It will be an offence for a person to forge or falsify a vaccination certificate (which is provided to a childcare facility to enable the enrolment of a child).

On 1 April 2018 the existing provisions that apply to primary schools will be extended to high schools. This will require principals of high schools to obtain information about a child’s vaccination status at enrolment and allow a public health office to exclude a child with a vaccine preventable disease, or an unvaccinated child, from high school during the outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease.

Public health officers will be able to take action to exclude a child from childcare or school if the officer believes that an unvaccinated child has come into contact with a person with a vaccine preventable disease, even if there is not an outbreak at the childcare facility or school. This will assist in better preventing outbreaks from occurring.

For more information see Changes to the Public Health Act - Childcare and school - vaccine preventable diseases.

Sexually transmitted infections

The Act changes the requirement for a person with a sexually transmitted infection (including HIV infection) to disclose this fact to their partners before having sex, to a requirement for a person with a sexually transmitted infection to take reasonable precautions against the spread of the sexually transmitted infection. This amendment takes effect from 18 October 2017. For more information see Changes to the Public Health Act – Preventing the spread of sexually transmissible infections.

HIV

S56 provides additional privacy protections for persons with a category 5 condition (HIV or AIDS). HIV and AIDS notifications will continue to be provided without identifying information.

It is no longer a requirement that a patient give specific consent to inclusion of identifying information on a HIV test request form.

The current exemption to the non-disclosure provision relating to a person’s HIV status has been expanded to allow HIV information to be disclosed for the purpose of providing care, treatment or counselling to the patient. General privacy protections will continue to apply to the use or disclosure of a person’s HIV information.

These changes commenced on 20 September 2017.

For more information see Changes to the Public Health Act - Disease notification and HIV information.

Environmental health

There are minor changes to the environmental health premises provisions to:

  • clarify that a public swimming pool includes a pool on a residential premises that is used for commercial purposes, as well as splash parks and interactive fountains. See the Control of public swimming pools fact sheet.
  • clarify that the definition of skin penetration includes procedures that penetrate a mucous membrane, such as the tongue. See the Control of skin penetration procedures fact sheet.
  • provide that the occupier of a multi-tenanted premises containing water cooling systems or air-handling units is the owners’ corporation.

Eyeball tattooing

From 1 December 2017 it is an offence for a person other than a medical practitioner, or person prescribed by the regulations, to carry out eyeball tattooing.

Suppliers of drinking water

It is an offence for a supplier of drinking water to fail to establish or adhere to a quality assurance program, unless exempted by the Chief Health Officer. In addition, suppliers of drinking water are required to provide a copy of the quality assurance program to the Health Secretary. This commences on 1 April 2018.

Local government authorities are now recognised as having responsibility for the regulation of private water suppliers and water carters.

Objectives

A new object of the Act is to monitor diseases and conditions affecting public health. This will ensure that the objects better align with the functions given under the Act.

Notification of certain diseases and conditions

Changes to Sections 54, 55 and 83 to commence on 1 April 2018 will allow the Secretary to obtain further information about a person with a scheduled medical condition or notifiable disease, who has been notified to the Secretary, from the patient’s treating medical practitioner.

For more information see Changes to the Public Health Act - Disease notification and HIV information.

Public health orders

Public health orders are orders requiring a person with certain serious conditions, such as Ebola, MERS SARS or HIV, and who is posing a risk to public health, to be detained and/or treated or comply with certain other directions.

From 1 April 2018 a public health order can be made in respect of a person who has been exposed to someone with a high risk disease (a “contact order condition”) and who poses a risk to public health. Contact order conditions are set out in a new Schedule 1A of the Act and include serious and highly infectious diseases, being MERS, SARS, avian influenza, typhoid or viral haemorrhagic fever (eg Ebola). Safeguards are:

  • the maximum period of a contact public health order is the incubation period for the relevant condition
  • an application must be made to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to review the order within 3 working days of the order being made.

A public health order can be made to require that person to provide details about other persons they have come into contact with.

A public health order can be made to detain the person with a disease, or who has been exposed to a contact order condition, regardless of whether or not treatment can be given to the person.

The Ministry must include in its annual report how many public health orders are made each year.

For more information see Changes to the Public Health Act - Public health orders.

Pap test register

The provisions in the Act relating to the Pap Test Register have been removed as the Commonwealth is establishing a National Cancer Screening Register, which will take over the state based Pap test registers.

Miscellaneous changes

  • Subpoena: From 20 September 2017 a new clause, s130A, provides that the Secretary cannot be compelled in any legal proceedings (other than under the Public Health Act) to produce information or give evidence in respect of notifications about scheduled medical conditions and notifiable conditions received by the Secretary.
  • Amendments provide that Sections 97 and 98, which relate to the establishment of public health and disease registers, do not limit other registers which can be created under the Act and allow for regulations to set out additional purposes for which a public health and disease register can be created.
  • Section 106 now allows the Secretary, following a public health inquiry, to direct a person who is responsible for, or contributed to, a risk to the public, to notify persons at risk.
  • A search warrant can now be applied for when the Secretary is conducting a public health inquiry.
  • Regulations can be made in respect of the payment of fees in relation to functions exercised by local governments and authorised officers.
Page Updated: Monday 4 December 2017