Government launches COVID-19 inquiry

Michelle Wisbey

21/09/2023 4:25:31 PM

The RACGP will contribute to a review of the pandemic response, which will scrutinise how the crisis was handled and help prepare for future events.

Anthony Albanese and Mark Butler
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Health Minister Mark Butler announcing the Commonwealth Government Covid-19 Response Inquiry. (Image: AAP/Roy Vandervegt)

An independent panel will spend the next year examining the Federal Government’s pandemic decisions, including vaccination rollouts, treatments, and medical supplies, after an inquiry was launched on Thursday.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the Commonwealth Government COVID-19 Response Inquiry will scrutinise what worked well and what failed, aimed at better preparing for a health disaster.
The three-person panel will include former senior public servant Robyn Kruk, epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett, and health economist Dr Angela Jackson, with key stakeholders and community members invited to share their views.
However, the inquiry is already drawing criticism after it was confirmed it would not be analysing any actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments.
It also will void scrutiny of international programs and activities assisting foreign countries.
The inquiry will instead focus on:

  • the role of National Cabinet and the Commonwealth Government
  • vaccinations, treatments, key medical supplies, quarantine facilities, public health messaging
  • mental health and suicide prevention supports, and access to preventive health measures
  • international border closures and vaccine supply deals with international partners
  • support for industry and businesses
  • individual income support payments
  • education, housing and homelessness measures, family and domestic violence measures
  • how to better target future responses to the needs of vulnerable populations.
‘This inquiry will look at the Government’s responses and will give advice on what worked, what didn’t, and what we can do in the future to best protect Australians from the worst of any future events,’ Prime Minister Albanese said.
Advocates have previously called for a royal commission into the COVID-19 response, which would have greater investigative powers, but the Prime Minister said the three-person panel resulted in the ‘best form of inquiry’.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins confirmed the college will contribute to the inquiry, saying GPs and practice teams must be front of mind when it comes to preparing for future disasters, including pandemics.
‘Governments must communicate with GPs and practice teams and make sure that we are kept in the loop but unfortunately, this is something that is often lacking,’ she told newsGP.
‘The COVID-19 vaccine rollout was an extremely stressful experience for many practices, with changes made without proper consultation, and GPs and practice teams learning of new developments on their TV screens or from frustrated patients.
‘We must be a priority when decisions are made.’

Dr Higgins said establishing a Centre for Disease Control would allow for independent, apolitical, evidenced-based advice and remove some of the issues that arose from the disconnect between state and federal governments. 
She also said in the future, GPs must be formally recognised in pandemic preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery.
‘A shortage of personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks were a major concern for many GPs and practice teams,’ Dr Higgins said.
‘In the future we need superior distribution channels responsive to local requirements.
‘We can’t fight a pandemic with one arm tied behind our back. We need the right resources to fight a future pandemic and keep ourselves and our patients as safe as possible.’

A final report is due to be delivered to the Government by September 2024 and will include recommendations on how to improve Australia’s preparedness for future pandemics.
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