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Health and Social Care Act 2008

Part 3 – Public Health Protection

29.The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (‘the Public Health Act 1984’) consolidates earlier legislation, much of it dating from the 19th century. Many of its assumptions, both about risks and about how society operates, are now out of date. Most concerns about health threats have, since the 19th century, related to infectious disease (plague, cholera and the like). This is reflected in the way that Part 2 of the Public Health Act 1984 focuses on infectious disease. It makes highly detailed provision on some matters (for example, it is a criminal offence to expose a public library book to plague, or to hold a wake over the body of a person who has died of cholera) but does not address other matters that are now of concern, such as contamination by chemicals or radiation. Part 3 of this Act updates the Public Health Act 1984 to take account of these points.

30.Internationally the case for taking an “all hazards” approach to dealing with such health threats was taken up by the World Health Organization (‘WHO’) and reflected in the International Health Regulations 2005 (‘IHR’). The IHR are the means by which WHO aims to prevent and control the international spread of disease, by action that is commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoids unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. The previous International Health Regulations (1969) were concerned with action at international borders in relation to three specific infectious diseases (cholera, plague and yellow fever), but increasingly were recognised as unable to deal with new threats, such as SARS. The new IHR are concerned with infectious diseases generally, and also with contamination. They also pay more attention than their predecessors to the arrangements needed in-country to deliver an effective response to health risks. The IHR came into effect in June 2007. This Act amends the Public Health Act 1984 to enable IHR to be implemented, including WHO recommendations issued under them.

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