On 14 September 2017 the NSW Parliament agreed to amend the Public Health Act 2010 to improve the disease notification process.
The changes will commence on 1 April 2018 and mean that treating doctors may be required to provide information about patients with notifiable conditions to the public health unit, irrespective of who made the notification.
A penalty of up to $5,500 applies if doctors do not, without reasonable excuse, provide the information.
Disease notification provides important information to track and control a range of infectious diseases and other conditions of public health importance. While the intent of the Act was to require doctors to supply information about their patients to allow control of diseases, pathology laboratories and hospitals often do not have all the relevant information about the patient to inform control measures.
From 20 September 2017:
HIV testing is an important part of routine medical care, and the restrictions on including a patient’s name on an HIV test without specific consent were a barrier to HIV testing. For example, if a woman is unknowingly infected with HIV the baby can be protected by treating the mother, however the need to gain specific consent to use the woman’s name for the test was a barrier to including HIV testing in routine antenatal screens.
The Act was also restrictive in regard to sharing information about patients with HIV. Now that HIV is a chronic, treatable condition it is important that health professionals are not unduly prevented from obtaining information about their patient’s HIV status, irrespective of whether they are directly treating them for HIV. Under the changes, a patient’s HIV status will be able to be disclosed to a person involved in the provision of care, treatment or counseling to the person concerned provided that the provisions of the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 permit the disclosure.
In regard to disease notification, HIV and AIDS remain different to other diseases, as the patient’s name and address is not included in the information provided to public health.
The Act was also amended to protect the information NSW Health holds on any notification from court proceedings, including under subpoena, unless approved by the Secretary of Health or the proceeding relates to the Public Health Act.