The Queensland Government is set to introduce legislation to give state health officials tough new powers to investigate, shut down and fine facilities putting people at risk of serious infections.
The move follows the closure of a dental clinic in Brisbane in December 2016 because of poor infection control measures, which put patients and staff at risk of exposure to infectious, blood-borne disease.
Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Cameron Dick said the new powers will allow officials to better monitor health care facilities, investigate potential breaches faster and take swift enforcement action if unsafe practices were detected.
“The legislation will require owners or operators of health care facilities to comply with specific infection control and training standards,” Dick said.
“Non-compliance with these standards could see owners or operators of healthcare facilities face penalties between $121,000 and $365,700 for a range of breaches.
“The legislation will allow Queensland Health to be more proactive in monitoring and investigating compliance, allowing inspectors to immediately enter a health care facility if they believe it is necessary to control an imminent public health risk.
“Current legislation requires Queensland Health to give 24 hours’ notice before it can enter a facility to investigate potential breaches, potentially allowing evidence of breaches to be removed.
“The legislation will also remove the requirement for local government approval, enabling officials to step in before the risk of infection becomes too great.”
The legislation will require owners or operators of health care facilities to provide a copy of their infection control management plans with penalties for non-compliance.
Executive director of Queensland Health’s Communicable Diseases Branch Dr Sonya Bennett said the legislation will provide more clarity around expectations and requirements for infection control.
“There really is no excuse for poor infection control,” Dr Bennett said.
“These important changes will allow health officials to act quickly, responsibly and decisively to manage any risk to the public.
“They also make abundantly clear what we expect from health practitioners and facilities in terms of infection control standards.”
A wide range of health care facilities will be subject to the new powers, including hospitals; dental clinics; blood banks; specialist practice clinics; and a range of other health facilities providing prescribed health services.
The amendments will not apply to accredited general practices, aged care facilities, licensed private hospitals and clinics or to local government immunisation programs, because infection control requirements at these facilities are covered by existing legislation or regulations.