The Public Health Act supports dealing with current and emerging public health issues including communicable disease prevention and control, health promotion and health protection, chronic disease and injury prevention, poisonings and bioterrorism threats.
The Public Health Act provides the minister, public health officials, regional health authorities, local governments, and others with important tools such as up-to-date information gathering abilities, modern inspection and ordering abilities and measures necessary to respond to public health emergencies. It works in concert with two other key public health statutes, the the Drinking Water Protection Act and Food Safety Act. The Public Health Act deals more specifically with communicable diseases and environmental health hazards that are not covered by these other Acts. Health officials may also use the Public Health Act to complement their powers under these other Acts.
The Public Health Act replaced the Health Act in 2009. Significant changes include:
- Modernization of powers and duties of public health officials for communicable disease prevention and control, environmental health hazard response, chronic disease and hazard prevention, and public health emergency response; e.g. updated inspection powers, powers to issue orders, quarantine and isolation provisions;
- Improved health monitoring abilities such as being able to require the reporting of indicators of hazardous environmental exposures e.g. blood levels of lead and mercury;
- Ability of health officers to order groups of people to take prevention measures to control a health hazard;
- Ability to require public health planning;
- New powers to regulate operations, activities or conditions that could pose a health hazard or health impediments i.e. a threat to long-term population health;
- Provisions that ensure administrative fairness;
- Strengthened relationships with and clarification of responsibilities of local governments regarding public health; and
- Modernization of enforcement, sentencing, and penalty provisions.
The Public Health Act supports key public health objectives to promote health and prevent disease and injury. These include:
- Health Protection and Environmental Health. The act will allow development of mandatory reporting provisions in addition to those formerly in place for communicable diseases to ensure that necessary information is collected for public health interventions and monitoring the health of the public. For example these provisions will allow for monitoring of body levels of pollutants (e.g. lead, mercury) and contribute to preventing the potential negative health effects associated exposure to environmental contaminants and poisonings. The act strengthens the inspection and enforcement powers of health officials which enables them to monitor and ensure compliance with the act, enter places, engage the assistance of peace officers, and obtain warrants and court orders.
- Disease Prevention.The act provides health officials the authority and tools to prevent and control the spread of disease and other health hazards by allowing for requiring implementation of preventive interventions (e.g., vaccination, ordering examinations, quarantine). During a public health emergency, such as a pandemic flu outbreak, public health officials have additional authority to respond immediately to protect the public from significant harm.
- Health Promotion. The act allows the minister to require development of public health plans. The purposes of public health plans could include: promoting and protecting the health and well being of British Columbians, identifying the needs of specific populations (i.e., indigenous people, new immigrants), addressing mental health and substance use issues, and preventing and mitigating the adverse affects of diseases, disorders, disabilities and injuries.