Silicosis diagnosis register proposed in draft legislation

Silicosis diagnosis register proposed in draft legislation

Australian doctors who diagnose tradespeople with silicosis will face fines if they fail to report their patient’s name and workplace to a new registry under legislation drafted to address the rise of workplace silica exposure.

The draft legislation will force doctors to pass on the details within 30 days for workers who contract silicosis, and the relevant known details of their exposure.

The legislation is not set to be introduced until later this year, despite criticism from unions, health experts and even within the government’s own ranks, regarding the pace of the approach to combat silicosis.

The Assistant Health Minister, Ged Kearney, explained that the registry will be key to addressing the condition, saying that “we can’t act on what we don’t know, and this registry will enable a nationally co-ordinated response to cases so we can better protect workers.”

The purpose of the draft bill is to collect data to identify and monitor the risks of silicosis in the workplace with the end goal of reducing harmful exposure.

Doctors will be obliged to pass on certain details of the patient and their workplace regardless of patient consent, to the Commonwealth. Post-diagnosis, doctors are not required to divulge further information, and must obtain consent to share related or broader detail, like the patient’s history.

Dr Graeme Edwards, a former member of the national dust diseases taskforce said that registry was overdue, after being proposed by that taskforce in 2019, and agreed to by the former Morrison government in 2020.

“It’s about time they actually insisted on action, [and] create the legislative framework that enables it to happen – which is a political responsibility – and protect the workers of Australia,” he said.

He did note that the proposed penalties for diagnosing doctors not reporting the issue could undermine the integrity of the registry because clinicians could delay diagnoses.

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