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Report from the Chief Executive Officer

Adjunct Professor Debora Picone AO

“Together we can make a difference and support our healthcare services in delivering high-quality, safe care to all Australians.”

In 2019–20, the Commission and its partners continued to provide leadership and support to healthcare services to drive safety and quality. The COVID‑19 pandemic has dominated the latter half of the financial year, and tested the safety and quality systems of healthcare services in Australia and across the world in many ways.

Health service organisations have had to respond rapidly to changing circumstances. The Commission has provided support to enable services to respond effectively to COVID‑19, while continuing to deliver high-quality and safe care. We have provided a range of resources to help protect the safety of clinicians and consumers, including resources on infection control and personal protective equipment, and guidance for the safe reintroduction of elective surgery.

The National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards and the Australian Health Service Safety and Quality Accreditation Scheme remain central to our work to improve the quality and safety of health care in Australia. The Commission has worked to improve the reliability of the accreditation process, and released several resources to assist healthcare organisations in implementing the standards and improving their services. In March 2020, the Commission announced the decision to maintain healthcare organisations’ accreditation status during the COVID‑19 pandemic to allow the organisations to focus on the immediate needs of their communities. In the meantime, we have begun work to develop and align standards for primary health care, community mental health and other services across the sector.

The COVID‑19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of developing national standards for digital mental health services. In the past few months, there has been an unprecedented increase in the online delivery of mental health services. The Digital Mental Health Standards that the Commission has developed will support healthcare providers in delivering these services effectively online, to provide the best possible care and health outcomes.

Infection prevention and control has naturally been an important focus during the pandemic, creating high public awareness of hand hygiene. On 1 November 2019, we transitioned the National Hand Hygiene Initiative from Hand Hygiene Australia to the Commission. Providing guidance in this area will remain a priority for us.

I also welcomed the announcement of medicine safety as a national priority area in 2019. The Commission has started developing a national baseline report on medicine safety, and will continue to lead improvements in this area. This builds on the important work we have done to develop Australia’s response to the World Health Organization Global Patient Safety Challenge.

Information underpins everything we do – it is important for us to understand what happens when things go wrong to inform improvements in the safety and quality of health care. We are currently developing a patient safety reporting framework using a range of indicators, including patient and staff experience, to obtain comprehensive, meaningful data. We are also contributing to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality, and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, which are both expected to make recommendations for healthcare reform.

Our understanding of the experience of patients, carers and clinicians is so important, as are our close relationships with all of our healthcare partners. I would like to acknowledge the Commission Board; our Board Chair, Professor Villis Marshall AC; the Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health; health ministers; Glenys Beauchamp PSM, Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Health (18 September 2017 to 23 February 2020); and health chief executive officers for their leadership and contributions to improving health care over the past year. I would also like to thank the Australian Government, our state and territory partners, private sector colleagues, clinical and consumer advisors, and, of course, our outstanding Commission staff. Together we can make a difference and support our healthcare services in delivering high-quality, safe care to all Australians.