Marshall slams Hunter New England Health over COVID-19 lack of transparency

NORTHERN Tablelands MP Adam Marshall has today blasted Hunter New England Health District for refusing to tell the public if there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their local government area.

Mr Marshall said it was disgraceful his communities were being “kept in the dark” and argued the lack of official information was heightening tensions in the electorate and creating sense of hysteria and panic in the community.

“We’re being kept in the dark and it’s causing people to panic as rumours abound in the information vacuum left by Hunter New England Health,” he said.

“My office and I are being inundated with calls, emails and letters on a daily basis from people just wanting to know what’s going on, because the information that’s being provided by the health district in the public domain is just not sufficient, it’s just not enough.

“It is so counterproductive when we’re dealing with a worldwide pandemic and people’s stress levels are at record highs.

“You would think that the authorities would be want to be providing the best and most detailed information that they can on a regular basis – obviously without breaching individuals’ privacy.”

The Hunter New England Health Local Health District, which stretches from Newcastle up to the Queensland border and out to Mungindi, covers an area of more than 130,000 square kilometres and accounts for more than 70 COVID-19 cases amid the state total of 1,029.

Mr Marshall said due to the area’s vast size, cases need to be broken down into local government areas so people were receiving the most detailed information.

“We don’t want to know who they are or where they live, but a breakdown of the cases that’s more granular than a whole health district that covers a significant part of the state would be very useful in keeping the community calm,” he said.

“If there are cases in our region, we need to know. At the moment, we have no way of knowing and that’s not good enough.

“Detailed, accurate and regularly updated information is crucial to avoiding what’s happening right now with people wildly speculating on social media, which causes further distress, anxiety and panic.

“It will help some people who aren’t taking it seriously to take it seriously when they know that there are actual cases of the virus in their local government area.

“If people are informed, they’re going to listen to the health warnings.”

Mr Marshall said the current lack of information was eroding the public’s confidence in the ability of Hunter New England Health to manage the COVID-19 crisis

“How can the community trust the authorities are doing the right thing by them and managing this situation well when the health district doesn’t trust the community with the facts?” he asked.

“Hunter New England Health is saying it’s a policy that they are only going to provide information on a health district basis.

“I think that is not only wrong, but stupid, in terms of managing this crisis.”

Mr Marshall said the policy adopted by Hunter New England Health was not consistent with other health districts in the state.

“I know for a fact, from talking to my parliamentary colleagues, that other health districts are making public, on a daily basis, the exact number of confirmed cases per local government area,” he said.

“This makes a mockery of the claims by our health district.”

Mr Marshall has asked Health Minister Brad Hazzard to intervene.

Media Release: March 25, 2020