Health system key to Western Australia’s Covid response

WA Health has responded to an Auditor General’s report into its contact tracing system, which has been a vital platform in the effort to keep Western Australians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Support Services Chief Executive, Robert Toms said that the PHOCUS contact tracing system was developed and designed to help keep the community safe during the evolving and unprecedented pandemic.

“We welcome the audit process; Health Support Services and the Department of Health have already taken significant steps to address the Auditor General’s findings as they were identified, and work continues to roll out improvements,” Mr Toms said.

“The contact tracing solution is a complex system, which was introduced swiftly and appropriately, and has been updated continuously to meet the latest needs in managing the pandemic.

“I can assure the Western Australian community that confidentiality of personal information is our priority and that no personal data has been released.

“Since April 2020, when the system was first launched, it has remained secure and has multiple layers of defence to achieve the highest levels of security.

“Any worker who has access to the system must be authorised to do so.”

Chief Health Officer, Dr Andrew Robertson said that the system had been a critical tool in the Western Australian public health response and in keeping the Delta variant out of the State.

“Across the nation, Western Australia was an early adopter of this technology, which was key to our pandemic response, and a number of other jurisdictions followed,” Dr Robertson said.

“Since it was introduced in April 2020, to early May 2022 more than 470,000 COVID-19 cases have been managed through the contact tracing system.

“WA Health used the system effectively to manage multiple outbreaks through 2020 and 2021, and this allowed Western Australia to avoid community transmission of the more severe COVID-19 variants such as Delta.”

PHOCUS was established swiftly to support contact tracing through efficient and secure integration with pathology results, the SafeWA app and the G2G system, during an unparalleled time.

The system allows approved users to record basic details about all COVID-19 cases and enables public health teams to assess whether cases have been to high risk settings such as aged care homes or remote communities.

“As part of our agile and scalable response to the pandemic, we have adapted the contact tracing system to support different phases,” Dr Robertson.

“Earlier on, the system was used for detailed management of cases, close and casual contacts.

“This helped public health teams to ensure testing was completed and that contacts reported any symptoms to WA Health.

“It has also supported the monitoring of returned travellers during periods of international and interstate quarantine.

“In more recent times, the contact tracing system has been adapted to help support outbreak responses in thousands of high-risk settings to help protect our most vulnerable.

“This has included providing public health support to assist with outbreaks in almost 200 residential aged care facilities.

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