AHPRA reminds doctors of ‘responsibility to support public health programs’

Matt Woodley

8/05/2019 2:58:42 PM

A spike in influenza and measles cases has prompted the regulator to issue the public reminder.

Australia and flu
AHPRA’s reminder comes following a nationwide spate of influenza and measles cases.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has issued the country’s practitioners a reminder of their ‘responsibility to support public health programs’.
The reminder outlines the regulator’s ‘mounting concerns’ about a five-year high in measles cases and historically severe early flu season, and references concerns that have been raised about practitioners advocating against evidence-based vaccination programs.
‘Practitioners are of course entitled to hold personal beliefs, but they must ensure that they do not contradict or counter public health campaigns, including about the efficacy or safety of public health initiatives,’ AHPRA Chief Executive Martin Fletcher said.
‘Registered health practitioners have a regulatory responsibility to support patients to understand the evidence-based information available.’

So far in 2019, Australia’s state and territory health authorities have already recorded two-thirds the amount of lab-confirmed influenza cases as were reported for the whole of 2018, with national notifications to 26 April 4.6 times the quarterly rolling five-year mean.

Flu-column-graph-text-(1).jpgMonthly nationwide totals of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases recorded from January to June over the past five years. (Source: National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System)
South Australia has been particularly affected, with more than 10,000 cases reported in the state, including 10 deaths – one of which was a 15-year-old with no pre-existing health conditions.
There have also been reports of a vaccine shortage in the state that prevented GPs and pharmacists from receiving adequate supplies, while staff at Flinders Medical Centre were unable to receive flu shots due to the temporary shortage.
South Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paddy Phillips described the high number of cases, 96% of which derive from influenza A, as ‘unusual’ and said such a high early peak has not been seen before.
‘So far this year we’ve seen unprecedented numbers of influenza cases,’ he said.
‘It’s important to realise this is the tip of an iceberg … people get ill with the flu, but don’t see a doctor and don’t get tested.
‘We know that this is an indicator of the number of cases out in the community, but it’s not the total number and the same will apply to deaths.’
Victoria has recorded 17 deaths – the first in the state due to influenza in at least two years – while New South Wales has reported nine deaths linked to the virus.
Meanwhile, the 108 Australian measles notifications recorded until May are already five more than the 2018 total, with Tasmania the only state or territory yet to record a case. The Northern Territory has had 29 cases – after none in 2018 – while NSW has the most with 33.
Almost all of these cases originated from travel to overseas locations and several unvaccinated children have been infected, including babies.

Total nationwide measles notifications from the past five years. (Source: National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System)

The measles spike has been attributed, at least in part, to a growing number of people with anti-vaccination beliefs combined with increased travel between Australia and countries in which the disease is not as well contained.
Immunisation-related regulatory action taken by AHPRA this year includes:

  • forcing practitioners to remove misleading comments or material from websites
  • restricting practitioners from circulating non-evidence based anti-vaccination material
  • cautioning practitioners against publicly advocating a position that is not evidence-based.
‘We take seriously any case of practitioners spreading dangerous and misleading anti-vaccination information, including on social media,’ Mr Fletcher said.
‘They will face regulatory action or prosecution. We are asking the public to tell us if their practitioner is doing this.’

AHPRA influenza measles public health vaccination

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Dr Peter j Strickland   9/05/2019 12:58:53 PM

AHPRA are NOT an education facility for clinical medicine, and trying to play "Nanny" with responsible medicos will go down like a lead balloon. This bureaucratic and expensive AHPRA organization needs to go, and get to a pragmatic organization for medical registration that understands the health professionals. Registration fees are ridiculously high, and merely supporting an increasing level of bureaucracy trying to continue relevancy, but they have lost respect, and need to go. We were ALL better off with our state organisations, and all that was needed was those state organisations to have the same ethical principles, i.e. allowing Australia-wide registrations.

Dr Susan Margaret McDonald   9/05/2019 11:07:55 PM

I agree whole heartedly, Peter. AHPRA is an expensive punitive style bureaucracy which sticks it's nose into issues it knows nothing about. To insinuate that the unusual peaking early influenza A is due to GP's not vaccinating is grossly inaccurate and insulting.
The same with measles. GP's in areas of low vaccination rates try very hard to improve rates but anti vaxers are anti science and have their own agenda and only convert when one of their own children becomes ill. Once again threaten and blame the GP.
I wish we had the pleasant state based registration system which calmly did it's job and for a quarter the price.

Max Gorbach   11/05/2019 8:18:17 AM

It's not GPs that need to be reminded of their responsibilities to ensure their patients are vaccinated, it is the patients themselves who need to be reminded of their responsibility to maintain their own/their families health and to not overburden the public health system by refusing to get protection from preventable diseases.

george tambakis   12/05/2019 11:53:07 AM

Finally dealing with it a regulator should; ensuring that due diligence of all general practitioners are to standard and reminding all GP's of their unique position as primary health care providers. We are the first line of defense and a trustable source for all patients to listen to and if a gentle reminder by a regulator is needed to boost patient compliance then so be it!