Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Bill [Bill no. 52/2018]
Sir, I stand in support of this Bill that will increase our responsiveness to infectious diseases. The most effective responses to infectious diseases are steps that are taken pre-emptively to curb the risk of any emerging threats.
The Bill provides the stakeholders with the necessary powers to respond ahead of time of any outbreaks, and quickly should an outbreak actually occur.
However, I also believe that all powers should be accompanied by checks and balances and I would like to seek some clarification on the broad powers the Bill provides.
Limits on a direction to cease occupation, trade or business
Under Section 21(1), the Director may give directions to an individual to cease or to change how they carry out any occupation, trade or business.
I note that Section 21(2)(a) states that the direction will specify the “period of time” that the individual will have to cease their occupation, trade or business. Can the Minister confirm that the Director will not have the blanket power to order a person to cease their occupation, trade or business for an indefinite period? Will the decision be made by just one person or a committee?
Will it be subject to time limits? For instance, Section 17A, which allows the Minister to declare a public health emergency and designate restricted zones is subject to a 14-day time limit.
There is no similar time limit for the Director’s powers under Section 21(1). Can the Minister confirm whether any time period specified will at least be limited by the requirement of reasonableness?
Can the Minister also provide the assurance that reasonable periods subject to regular review will be preferred over long bans?
Safeguards on disclosure of information by healthcare providers
Next, under Section 57B(1), a healthcare provider may disclose information identifying a person as an individual affected or suspected to be affected by an infectious disease. The healthcare provider must be authorised by the Director to do so. Can the Minister clarify whether the affected person will be notified of the disclosure?
Under Section 57B(3) the specified recipient of information may further disclose that information to another person providing a prescribed healthcare service. The disclosure is only to the extent necessary to prevent the spread or outbreak of the infectious disease.
Can the Minister elaborate on whether the extent necessary is at the sole judgment of the specified recipient, and whether the Director’s authorisation or affected person’s consent would be required?
Section 57B(6) defines “healthcare provider” and “specified recipient” as any person that provides a prescribed healthcare service which will be prescribed in subsequent regulations. Can the Minister share in advance the scope of healthcare services that may be prescribed and whether a “healthcare provider” would be limited to medical practitioners registered under the Medical Registration Act?
In addition to Section 57B, Section 59A(5A) also allows individually-identifiable information to be disclosed for the purposes of national public health research. There are no express provisions for both Section 57B and Section 59A on safeguards that may be imposed on the recipient of such information.
Rather, Section 57B(2) and Section 59A(5)(c) allows the Director to impose conditions. I assume that these conditions will require recipient of the information to take steps to prevent further disclosure. Will there be subsidiary legislation or guidelines that will further elaborate on the safeguards that recipients must put in place?
Results of public consultation
Lastly, I would like to commend MOH on the six-week public consultation that was conducted in mid-2018 on the proposed amendments to the Infectious Diseases Act.
However, unlike the draft Healthcare Services Bill, there was no direct response from the Ministry to the public consultation feedback. Can the Minister share the key feedback that was received on the proposed amendments, and whether any of the responses were accepted by the Ministry in drafting the final Bill?
Sir, notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of this Bill.