Hazzard backs NSW Health officials after damning inquiry report

Hazzard backs NSW Health officials after damning inquiry report

August 16, 2020

Health Minister Brad Hazzard has told senior colleagues that NSW Health officials have his unwavering support after they were held responsible for the Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle.

NSW Health was accused of serious, inexcusable and inexplicable mistakes in a report into the "mishap" involving 2647 passengers who disembarked the cruise ship in Sydney on March 19.

The Ruby Princess cruise ship in Circular Quay in March. Credit:Kate Geraghty

The report by Bret Walker, SC, from the Special Commission of Inquiry into Ruby Princess, was handed to the Berejiklian government on Friday afternoon, with sweeping criticisms of NSW Health.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Mr Hazzard will make a public statement addressing Mr Walker's report on Monday. A spokeswoman for Mr Hazzard said he would not comment on Sunday.

But sources close to Mr Hazzard said he was "totally backing" the health officials and believes they have done an "exceptional job" throughout the pandemic but had at times been unfairly criticised.

Ministers spoke on the condition of anonymity because Ms Berejiklian has made it clear that no official government response would be made until she had had time to carefully read the report.

Mr Hazzard has also expressed concern to colleagues about the mental health impact that the Ruby Princess fiasco and the commission of inquiry has had on health officials.

He has told them that three of the senior officials involved in the handling of the Ruby Princess were so "traumatised" that they were no longer working in NSW's COVID-19 response team.

"Brad is a good minister and a very good person and he has been worried about these people, the very people who have saved us during this pandemic," one minister said.

Another minister said: "There is no doubt Brad will back the health officials and that's exactly what he should do. Look at where NSW is, they have done an exceptional job."

Mr Walker's report said NSW Health made a range of serious mistakes in its handling of the Ruby Princess including delays in sending swabs for COVID-19 testing and assessing the ship as low risk.

Within 24 hours of the passengers disembarking at Circular Quay and being free to travel home, three COVID-19 tests performed on board had returned positive.

In the following weeks, as many as 700 passengers and 202 crew tested positive and 22 people died. Nineteen people in NSW and 15 people interstate were infected by those passengers.

Mr Walker concluded that despite a range of serious mistakes by NSW Health, there were no "systemic" failures to address.

Despite his criticisms of NSW Health, Mr Walker's report says senior doctors made decisions at "a time of stress" and when they were "stretched to their limits by their workloads".

"This neither absolves those professionals of their responsibilities nor lessens the level of care expected of them in the performance of their duties. It is, however, an appropriate human (and humane) matter to take into account in any critical analysis of their actions and decisions," it says.

"Despite how it may sometimes seem, the decisions of the physicians within NSW Health concerning the Ruby Princess were by no means the only decisions made by either those physicians or others within the NSW Health bureaucracy since the emergence of COVID-19."

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