More cracks have appeared within the Victorian Government over the state’s bungled COVID-19 response.
Yesterday, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton fronted the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry whereby he confirmed that he wanted to be in charge of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic but was sidelined:
Professor Sutton said he would have preferred being in charge of the state’s COVID-19 response when the pandemic began in Victoria.
Under the state emergency plan, the Chief Health Officer is technically supposed to be the state controller – the person who has oversight of the overall pandemic response.
Instead, Health Department deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck recommended the job go to someone else because Mr Sutton would be too busy as the key public health advisor and face of the pandemic.
Professor Sutton confirmed in the inquiry that he didn’t agree with this decision.
“The position [of state controller] has line of sight of operational elements that I as chief health officer and accountable with all the powers that I’m exercising under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act that it’s important for me to have line of sight of the application of those controls and to be appropriately aware, to have situational awareness of those operational activities,” Professor Sutton said…
Professor Sutton said it was preferable in a pandemic that someone with public health expertise and experience with communicable diseases was state controller.
Sutton’s department also warned of problems in Victoria’s pandemic response in early April, but was ignored:
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton requested an urgent review of the hotel quarantine program after he was sidelined by bureaucrats from overseeing the state’s response to the pandemic, an inquiry has heard.
Professor Sutton further told the inquiry today that he did not know private security was going to be used until after the outbreaks occurred, telling then Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy in June the causal guards were the “wrong cohort”.
An email sent on behalf of Professor Sutton and then deputy CHO Annaliese van Diemen by Public Health Commander Finn Romanes on April 8, flagged serious issues with the program due to a lack of input from public health experts.
“There appears to be a lack of a unified plan for this program, and there is considerable concern that the lead roles have not had an opportunity to be satisfied there is a policy and set of processes to manage the healthcare and welfare of detainees, for whom the program is accountable.”
Professor Sutton told the inquiry he supported Dr Finn Romanes in sending the email, saying he supported the public health commander in calling out issues that “required urgent review”.
“Absolutely, Dr Romanes was acting on behalf of me in highlighting concerns that he had,” he said.
Professor Sutton further told the inquiry that no one asked for his opinion on using private security and said he saw the risks of using highly casualised workers as they were incentivised to work while potentially infectious.
Professor Sutton and his team also gave advice about infection control such as cleaning and personal protective equipment. But because they were not overseeing the program, he cannot confirm whether the advice was followed:
Professor Sutton told today’s hearing his public health team provided advice and directions on personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning policies for the hotels.
But he said once the advice was provided to the massive bureaucratic taskforce, which he referred to as a “large beast”, his team was unaware about whether the directions were actually being followed.
Mr Ihle probed Professor Sutton about the extent of his team’s role.
“Is it fair to say that [your team] doesn’t have oversight of how they’re [health directions] being proliferated and complied with?” Mr Ihle asked.
“Yes I think that’s a fair statement,” Mr Sutton replied.
“Oversighting that guidance or policy directions was not part of our purview,” he later said.
Unbelievable stuff. Instead of letting a public health expert oversee a public health emergency, the task was left to bureaucrats who then employed untrained supermarket security and Uber drivers.
The whole system was set up to fail from the very beginning.