Speaking at a NSW Legislative Committee Inquiry into the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020, on Thursday 11 February, Hepatitis NSW restated our concerns related to this ill-conceived and flawed legislation.
Hepatitis NSW CEO Steven Drew said, “Hepatitis NSW absolutely supports frontline health and emergency services workers. We collaborate with many of them every day through our work. They should not be subjected to unnecessary threats or risk as they go about their job and it is abhorrent that attacks do occur that create health related stress and concern.”
“Frontline workers must be informed and educated in advance, and reassured by experts that, based on science and evidence, the likelihood of the transmission of a blood-borne virus as the result of spitting or skin contact with blood is non-existent,” said Mr Drew. On this basis, the inclusion of saliva within the definition of ‘body fluids’ which can be used to seek a mandatory testing order in the Bill is redundant and raises questions as to the real purpose of this legislation.
“We are part of a concerted effort by the community, government, and health sectors to eliminate both hepatitis B and hepatitis C in New South Wales by 2028,” said Mr Drew. “Efforts to date have resulted in the hard won ongoing decline in prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Both viruses now present a numerically small and ever diminishing health risk in NSW.”
“There is an effective cure for hepatitis C and a vaccination for hepatitis B. This means the fear and worry, which this legislation validates, is unwarranted and not justifiable. Instead, rather than entrench stigma and discrimination, we need scientific, evidence-based information and education to reduce stress and anxiety for frontline workers who are at risk of incidents of exposure. This reflects New South Wales world leading approach and response to public health issues.”
This Bill will make it harder to reach the very people we must still reach to make good on elimination.
Since 2000, a comprehensive hepatitis B vaccination program in NSW means an entire generation of young people are not at, and pose no risk of, infection. Additionally, frontline workers should already be vaccinated against hepatitis B to mitigate occupational health and safety risks of blood borne virus transmission.
Furthermore, an effective cure for hepatitis C is universally available through the PBS, including for young people aged 12 and above. That this Bill applies to young people aged 14 years and above is as unjustifiable as it is abhorrent.
“The importance of protecting and promoting the health, well-being, and mental health of staff, employees, workers and indeed the public is something we all agree on. Workplaces have an obligation to do everything possible to protect staff from injury and harm while carrying out their duties. Although the rationale for this Bill is to protect and promote the health and well-being of frontline workers we already, in fact, have the tools to do so.”
The current system already places the health and safety of the worker at the centre of risk assessment and prevention. It prioritises evidence-based assessment, treatment, and care. In the event of an incident, focus should always be placed on access to immediate assessment of risk by a qualified health practitioner, counselling, and support to the person. This support would see the commencement of any recommended aftercare, including post-exposure prophylaxis.
Mr Drew said, “Requiring an alleged assailant to undertake a blood test, potentially without consent and under duress, does not provide peace of mind. It would be an unnecessary and fallible substitute for the immediate clinical assessment of the affected worker by an expert and appropriate care protocols.”
It is important to state clearly and unambiguously that enacting this Bill will disproportionately and adversely impact an already disadvantaged population, notably street present and marginalised people – specifically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as people who have substance dependence, gender identity, and mental health issues.
“The Bill will effectively offer no increased peace of mind to frontline workers,” said Mr Drew, “but would instead expose predominantly marginalised individuals to unnecessary and invasive blood testing, potentially inflaming violent behaviour and increasing the risk of injury to both the alleged assailant and the frontline worker.”
For more information, please contact:
Steven Drew, CEO
0402 518 285