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Physician to replace Jeannette Young amid exodus from Queensland Health

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A Brisbane-based infectious disease physician is tipped to succeed Jeannette Young as Queensland’s Chief Health Officer after a worldwide search for a replacement.

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Krispin Hajkowicz, the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital Director of Infectious Diseases, is expected to be named as the state’s new Chief Health Officer as early as this week to allow for an adequate handover period before Dr Young takes over from Paul de Jersey as the new Queensland Governor on November 1.

Young, 58, will step down as Chief Health Officer after 16 years in the job.

Her departure comes at a critical time for Queensland during the coronavirus pandemic as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues.

It follows the recent loss from Queensland Health of her former deputy Dr Sonya Bennett, who has moved to Canberra to become Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has failed to stem an exodus from senior operational roles at Queensland Health.

The department’s Strategic Communications Executive Director Robert Hoge and the Deputy Director-General of Clinical Excellence Queensland Dr Jillann Farmer have also recently left.

Hoge has taken up a similar position at Queensland’s Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning.

Young’s predecessor as Chief Health Officer Gerry FitzGerald said losing so much corporate knowledge in such a short period of time was “a concern”.

Prof FitzGerald said the loss of years of experience from Queensland Health came at a time when management of the pandemic remained “quite tricky” and hospitals were under stress.

In the longer term, dealing with the health impacts of climate change posed a significant challenge, he said.

“There’s a lot of experience and talented people that are holding the ship together, but it is a concern,” he said.

Hajkowicz is seen in some medical circles as a “surprising” choice for Chief Health Officer given the wide-ranging nature of the role, including such diverse responsibilities as the licensing of private hospitals, medical workforce planning and cancer screening, on top of management of infectious disease outbreaks.

But Young’s appointment was also labelled controversial when she was appointed in late 2005 from the Princess Alexandra Hospital, where she was Executive Director of Medical Services.

Queensland Health has named three new Deputy Chief Health Officers to replace Dr Bennett – James Smith, Lynne McKinlay and Peter Aitken.

Smith is a public health physician, McKinlay previously worked in a management role at Children’s Health Queensland and Aitken was the senior director of Queensland Health’s Health Disaster Management Unit until earlier this year.

They will work with Young until she leaves next month and are expected to play key roles in handling the pandemic moving forward, supporting her replacement.

Hajkowicz founded the Queensland Statewide Antimicrobial Stewardship Program, a state government initiative aimed at ensuring optimal use of antibiotics in rural hospitals. He has published widely on infectious diseases in medical journals.

The 45-year-old completed his medical degree at the University of Queensland in 1999.

If he takes over from Young as Chief Health Officer, his appointment comes at a critical time during the pandemic with Queensland hospitals gearing up for the possibility of a large outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In Queensland understands resources are being mobilised to provide hospital-in-the-home services to care for potentially hundreds of COVID patients, as well as significant hospital admissions for people needing higher levels of care.

 

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