Page 700 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 5 April 2022

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This more detailed epidemiology report will continue to be updated and released on a weekly basis. This week’s report will also include the vaccination status of people who have died with COVID-19. This was not included in last Friday’s report due to the need to clarify the information. Overall, the report reinstitutes the reporting of relevant data that was included in the daily dashboard up to 8 November 2021, when the notifiable diseases management system changed over, and adds some additional information, such as subvariant prevalence.

In releasing this more detailed information on a daily and weekly basis, ACT Health continues to balance the importance of transparency with its legal and ethical obligations to maintain the confidentiality of the personal health information of individuals. This can usually be achieved through the release of deidentified information, but it can be particularly difficult in the ACT due to the territory’s population size and a smaller number of deaths and hospitalisations relative to larger jurisdictions. ACT Health will continue to report information through datasets of a sufficient size so as not to inadvertently identify individuals. As an example of the guidelines applied in data reporting, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare generally does not report data when fewer than five people are included in the dataset for a small jurisdiction.

More than two years into the global pandemic, the ACT government’s COVID-19 public health response, guided by the advice of the Chief Health Officer, is based on whole-of-population health statistics and trends, not on individual case information. Often, the most relevant information will come from jurisdictions and studies where the numbers are sufficient to support statistically valid conclusions regarding trends, correlation and causation.

Madam Speaker, it is understandable in these uncertain times that people may be interested in knowing the vaccination status and comorbidities of individual patients in ICU and those who have, sadly, lost their lives. However, the release of this individual information without consent cannot usually be justified on public health grounds, when balanced against the fact that this information may be able to be linked to an individual, and may therefore constitute a breach of the Health Records (Privacy and Access) Act 1997 and the principles that underpin the act.

Officials in the ACT Health Directorate and Canberra Health Services are diligent in ensuring that the information they provide to the media and the public is accurate. This sometimes means providing context rather than simply numbers. Sometimes it involves clarifying data that has been cleansed, or quality assured, if a number provided on one day is slightly different to the number provided a few days earlier. This is a sign of people doing their best to respond with accuracy in an evolving environment. Sometimes it involves robust discussions. This is healthy. It is a sign of people working together with respect for one another’s expertise, so that all considerations can be understood and balanced. Ultimately, whenever the media has sought data and it could be provided accurately and in a genuinely deidentified way, it has been.

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