Outgoing Chief Medical Officer praised for work during the pandemic

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

26/06/2020 3:31:39 PM

Australia’s top health adviser Professor Brendan Murphy is now preparing for his next post as Health Department Secretary.

Brendan Murphy
Credited for his leading role in Australia’s effective response to flattering the coronavirus curve, Professor Brendan Murphy leaves his role as Chief Medical Officer. (Image: AAP)

Just short of four years since joining the Health Department, Professor Brendan Murphy leaves his role as Australia’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO).
On Friday 26 June, the Federal Government’s principal medical advisor chaired his final meeting of the Australian Health Principal Protection Committee (AHPPC), the key body advising the national cabinet throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
‘We’ll be having a bit of a chat about lessons learned,’ Professor Murphy said prior to the meeting.
Deputy CMO Professor Paul Kelly will take over the role in an acting capacity as of Monday 29 June, until a successor is confirmed.
It has been a challenging year for Professor Murphy, who has had to face one crisis after another, with Australia’s Black Summer bushfires immediately followed by the global coronavirus pandemic.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon praised the outgoing CMO for his measured response.
‘Professor Murphy has been faced with some extraordinarily challenging decisions in his role as Chief Medical Officer, and he has performed admirably in limiting the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic while being mindful of the impact government restrictions were having on people’s livelihoods and wellbeing,’ he told newsGP.
While Victoria recorded its tenth consecutive day of double-digit coronavirus cases on Friday 26 June, with 30 confirmed overnight, Australia’s response to the global health crisis has been widely praised, with Professor Murphy credited as having played a leading role.
It was he who first suggested Australia close its borders, first with China, in a telephone conversation with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt in early February.
‘I think we need to do what is not normal public health policy,’ he recounted telling Minister Hunt in an interview with the ABC. ‘[The World Health Organization] don’t support it … we need to try and stop importation [of virus cases], so we need to close the borders with China.
‘It was a very useful decision, I think. Fateful, maybe.
‘Border measures have been a very big part of our public health response and part of the reason why largely we’ve had a very successful response.’
Professor Murphy is keen to share credit for his successes.
‘Any achievements I might have had is a collective achievement. The wisdom of that group is extraordinary. Every member of the federation of Australia has responded well. One of the great legacies of this outbreak is how our federation has worked well,’ he said
‘At the health level, we have consensus, cooperative, assisting each other, and we have taken the best expert advice and given it fearlessly to our first ministers, who have taken that advice on every occasion.
‘That makes me very proud.’

Professor Murphy (right) worked closely with ministers and medical experts throughout the coronavirus pandemic. (Image: AAP) 

Prior to his appointment, Professor Murphy had a long career as a nephrologist and served as Chief Executive Officer of Austin Health in Victoria.
He was formerly CMO and director of Nephrology at St Vincent’s Health, served as president of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology, and has sat on various boards.
When he was first appointed as Australia’s primary medical advisor, Professor Murphy made an impression. He went beyond the traditional focus of the role on biosecurity, immunisation, and disease surveillance, engaging with the health sector as a whole, including the RACGP.
‘Pretty much right from the start he was reaching out to me as the incoming president of a GP organisation,’ Dr Bastian Seidel, past President of the RACGP, told The Canberra Times.
‘At the time that was quite unusual because up to that point the CMO was mainly about infection control.’
Dr Seidel said it was clear from the start that Professor Murphy wanted to ‘engage in all areas of health’.
‘As a clinician, he basically brings an understanding of the art of medicine, which is something that many do not get,’ he said. ‘When you are able to bridge the clinical and bureaucratic worlds in one person it undoubtedly has to be a positive.’
That engagement has continued throughout Professor’s Murphy’s time as CMO, which proved particularly important in recent months.
‘He is a practically minded leader who has always been willing to engage with the RACGP,’ Dr Nespolon said.
‘This affords him a strong understanding of the vital role GPs play in the health of the nation, particularly during a pandemic.’
In his final national cabinet press conference as CMO, Professor Murphy announced that people returning to Australia from overseas will now be tested for COVID-19 both arrival and before leaving their 14–day quarantine.
Reflecting on the rising number of positive cases in Victoria, he said authorities had predicted and planned for another possible outbreak.
‘We’ve also, as we’ve said, can’t be sure that there isn’t small amounts of virus circulating in parts of the country,’ Professor Murphy said. ‘So the outbreaks, [the] mini-outbreak we have seen in Victoria, is what we predicted, what we planned for.
‘When I took to the national cabinet the plan for reopening, removing restrictions, we assured national cabinet that the likelihood of outbreaks were high and we were ready to respond to them.
‘That’s exactly what the Victorian health authorities are doing right now.’
Professor Murphy was keen to remind people the fight is far from over, however, but reassured that Australia is on the right track.
‘We may see more such outbreaks, we’re very likely to see more such outbreaks, not just in Victoria – it could be anywhere in the country,’ he said.
‘We’re prepared, we’re responding and we’re very, very comfortable with the way things are going’.
Professor Murphy will continue his involvement in the response to the coronavirus in his next post as Secretary of the Federal Health Department, succeeding Glenys Beauchamp on 13 July. Professor Murphy will be the first medical doctor to serve in the role. 

His appointment was first announced in January and meant to be begin on 29 February. However, the move was delayed due to the threat and uncertainty being posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Murphy has acknowledged the health department has a number of pending enquiries, including a review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule.
‘I wish Professor Murphy every success in his new role as Health Department Secretary and look forward to working constructively with him in years to come,’ Dr Nespolon said.
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Dr Michael Kim Duffy   28/06/2020 4:22:52 PM

Well done Dr Murphy

Dr Alan Graham MacKenzie   4/07/2020 8:56:09 AM

I cannot believe that people Coming from overseas can be released from quarantine without a negative test and that they can refuse to be tested