CHO: Changing of the guard

9 Jul 2021

Chris CHO Eleanor web


by AMA Queensland President Professor Chris Perry OAM

Shouldering responsibility for the health of more than five million people for the past 15 years is no mean feat. And while the COVID-era decisions made by Queensland’s Chief Health Officer (CHO) Dr Jeannette Young have not been universally popular, there is no doubt she has played a pivotal role in keeping the state’s population relatively well-protected from the ravages of a novel coronavirus – an achievement acknowledged by standing ovation at the recent Queensland Disaster Management Conference.

Dr Young’s unwavering resolve has resonated with many Queenslanders and underpinned some remarkable changes in the delivery of health care and health messaging in Queensland. With a no-nonsense hand on the tiller, she has guided Queensland’s public health response through numerous natural disasters, including tropical cyclones and the 2010-11 floods, as well as infectious disease threats such as MERS (another coronavirus), dengue fever and tuberculosis. Along the way, Dr Young has promoted many new policies to boost Queensland’s vaccination rates, reduce obesity and get more of us to quit smoking.

It is an impressive body of work but, by all accounts, it’s not over yet.

Dr Young has signaled a Vice-Regal ambition to make Queensland a smoke-free state. Given that Queensland has the second highest prevalence of regular smoking (behind only the Northern Territory)[i], many doctors will look forward to supporting her campaign.

Before she moves into Government House, Dr Young has said she wants every Queenslander aged 16 years and older to have at least been offered the COVID vaccine. Unfortunately, four months into the program, Queensland has the second slowest vaccination rate in the nation and Dr Young’s replacement as Chief Health Officer may need to crack the whip if Queenslanders are ever going to fully reconnect with the world.

Queensland’s next Chief Health Officer faces several unknowns, as the nation looks to a post-COVID future. How will we manage overseas arrivals? Who will be allowed to travel? And how do we prepare the health system to manage the next outbreak? Our eventual return to pre-pandemic travel and trade will bring new disease threats and Queensland, indeed Australia, cannot afford to be complacent.

The changing of the CHO guard is also a great opportunity to take a fresh look at Queensland’s public health strategies. There are many long-standing and persistent problems which require new approaches, including the extensive tooth decay caused by lack of fluoridation in regional water supplies. Also, COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated the shortcomings in our mental health system, with everyone from kids and mums to farmers and prisoners having to wait too long to access professional psychiatric help.

One of the most urgent health challenges, putting millions of lives and livelihoods in danger, is climate change. The climate crisis is a health crisis, with severe effects across the community. AMA Queensland hopes to have the opportunity to work with the new CHO on a climate and health strategy, with clear goals for reducing waste and carbon emissions across the state’s health system.

We wish Dr Young all the best in her new role. No doubt, having a doctor in the House will help keep the health of Queenslanders on the front page!



Published: 9 Jul 2021