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Ministry of Health

Public Health Act

A new Public Health Act has been created to address current and emerging public health issues including new challenges in communicable disease prevention and control (e.g. SARS, pandemic influenza), health promotion and health protection, chronic disease and injury prevention, poisonings and bioterrorism threats.

Please see the Notice Letter and News Release and Backgrounders One and Two announcing this important initiative.

The new Public Health Act is the first significant overhaul of the Health Act since 1893. Parts of the Health Act were updated by the Drinking Water Protection Act (2001) and the Food Safety Act (2002). This new Act will combine and update key provisions of the existing Health Act with the Venereal Diseases Act and the Public Toilet Act. Other important legislation that supports public health activities are the Tobacco Control Act and the School Act.

The Public Health Act provides the Minister, public health officials, regional health authorities, local governments, and others with important tools available in other jurisdictions such as up-to-date information gathering abilities, modern inspection and ordering abilities and other measures necessary to respond to public health emergencies.

The Public Health Act is a product of extensive stakeholder consultations. Significant changes to the new Act include:

  • The 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;
  • The ability of health officers to order groups of people to take prevention measures to control a health hazard. Previous to this new provision, each individual affected by a health hazard had to be issued a separate and unique order. After the SARS outbreak, public health officials identified the need for more effective management strategies to cope with groups of potentially infected people;
  • Ability to require public health planning;
  • New powers to regulate operations, activities or conditions that could pose a health hazard or 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 new Public Health Act reflects and supports many of key public health objectives raised by the Conversation on Health, such as more proactive measures to promote health and prevent disease and injury. The Conversation noted a strong desire for better environmental protection, better availability of immunizations, and a need to strengthen the public health system's ability to address infectious disease outbreaks.

Issues raised in the Conversation on Health addressed by the Public Health Act are:

  • Health protection and environmental health issues. The Public Health Act will allow development of mandatory reporting provisions in addition to those currently in place for communicable diseases to ensure that necessary information is collected for public health interventions and monitoring the health of the public. 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 provides health officials the authority and tools to prevent and control the spread of disease and other health hazards by allowing for preventive interventions (e.g. vaccination, ordering examinations and quarantine). 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. 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 Public Health 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. aboriginals, new immigrants), addressing mental health and substance use issues, and preventing and mitigating the adverse affects of diseases, disorders, disabilities, and injuries.

For more information on the Public Health Act see the links and other pages on this website, or email Dr. Brian Emerson (brian.emerson@gov.bc.ca) or call 250-952-1701.