The establishment of a ‘health conservation plan’ and a Latrobe Valley health advocate are among suggestions the Board of Inquiry has made to improve and safeguard the community’s health.
They are not recommendations, but outline possible actions the government could take. Member for Morwell Russell Northe has indicated the government will give the suggestions “serious consideration”.
The Inquiry report highlighted the Department of Health was yet to outline how it would help improve the health of the Latrobe Valley in the aftermath of the fire and prevention should not just focus on coal mine fires, but further threats to health which may be exacerbated by any future fires.
“Specific improvements are needed, such as preventing and managing respiratory conditions. System-wide improvements are also needed, such as strengthening community capacity and resilience, tackling the social determinates of health and providing hope and optimism for the community,” the report stated.
It suggested the Valley be declared a ‘health conservation zone’, or a priority area for action “across the health continuum” and this could include collaboration between relevant agencies and the development of a Health Conservation Plan by the Department of Health.
This would focus on the prevention and management of chronic diseases and the creation of supportive environments for health.
The report identified a lack of health leadership at the local level during the mine fire, saying many community members expressed a lack of trust in Melbourne-based government officials, based on prior experience.
It suggested as a trial, the government create a Health Advocate position for the Valley, with the core responsibilities for health monitoring and advocacy.
The report stated the advocate could report annually on key issues affecting the health of locals, act as a champion for the health conservation zone and follow up arrangements for the long-term health study.
The final ‘matter for consideration proposed by the Board is mechanisms for the Department of Health and Emergency Management Victoria to consider establishing a standing Public Health Emergency Panel to offer advice on health policies and protocols relevant to major public health emergencies.
Mr Northe said on the surface, the suggestions “seemed to be reasonable”, but the government would conduct more research to ascertain how the changes might work.
He said the government would provide a more detailed response in the next three to four weeks.