Jersey’s 90-year-old public health law – which was produced when diseases like cholera were still rife – is set to be overhauled because the current one doesn’t protect islanders “adequately or effectively”.
The new law would replace the 1934 Loi sur la Santé Publique, which provides for the role of the Medical Officer of Health, which is currently held by consultant in communicable disease control Dr Ivan Muscat MBE, and limited powers to manage and control the spread of infectious illnesses.
However, the Government wants a new law to cover other types of health crises like obesity and its links with diabetes and non-medical emergencies posing a risk to health like a chemical spill, with a Director of Public Health in charge, who would responsible for maintaining preparedness plans.
According to the Consultation Paper produced by the Government, the current law, which was established when “life expectancy was lower, diseases such as cholera were common, and housing and sanitation was only of a basic standard”, does not provide the powers necessary to respond to modern public health incidents or public health emergencies, as “acutely highlighted” by the covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, it does not place any statutory duties on the Government to consider or address “preventable illnesses and health inequalities”.
Pictured: The current law does not enable the Government to protect the health of islanders "adequately or effectively".
“Due to the changing nature of the risks and hazards that threaten our health, limiting health protection provisions to infectious and contagious disease - as per the 1934 Law - would not enable us to protect the health of islanders adequately or effectively,” the Government wrote.
“The covid-19 pandemic exposed significant gaps in Jersey’s legislative powers for responding to major public health risks. Due to the absence of a suitable legal framework, during 2020 and 2021, numerous pieces of legislation needed to be developed, at pace and with limited time for consideration by Ministers and the Assembly. This is clearly not a preferred model for the management of public health emergencies.”
The Public Health Law, the Government wrote, could be used to establish standards around the treatment of disease, respond to health threats and create conditions that allow people to lead healthier lives.
The law, which would provide a legal foundation and a framework, for public health activity, would include “flexible powers” allowing the Government to handle not only the “day-to-day management of small-scale incidents” such as an outbreak of tuberculosis) as well as “large-scale outbreaks where disease or contamination could have much wider implications”.
Pictured: “The covid-19 pandemic exposed significant gaps in Jersey’s legislative powers for responding to major public health risks," the Government said.
The Government said the new law provides an “opportunity to learn from covid-19” and is suggesting it should introduce a statutory requirement for Ministers or the Director of Public Health to develop and maintain preparedness plans for public health emergencies; as well as provide a broad range of powers to be used in those situations.
Express learned last year that Jersey's pandemic preparedness strategy - which was based around a flu scenario that assumed elderly people would be less at risk, unlike covid - was seven years out of date when covid hit. It was in the process of being updated at the time, but this work was held up by the pandemic itself.
While the new Public Health Law is not fully developed yet, the Government said it will introduce a new statutory role of Director of Public Health, as well as modernising existing health protection arrangements and update the reporting requirements related to notifiable conditions.
Such a role would not have to be held by a doctor, with the consultation paper stating that the change from having a Medical Officer of Health is “designed to ensure a broad range of public health skills and experience are applied to the role and reflects the global shift away from a purely medicalised model of public health.”
In addition, the Government is considering whether the legislation should incorporate health improvement provisions to help address current public health challenges.
However, the consultation paper noted: “Whilst the new law may be broader in scope, it is not the intention to capture areas of public health policy or practice where other fit-for-purpose legislation is in place (for example, environmental public health and animal health). Attempting to incorporate these laws into one new law would arguably be an unnecessary use of resources to achieve minimal additional value for islanders.”
Islanders are being asked to share their views in a short survey including six questions and one comment space before the end of July.
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