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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2120


Mrs ELLIOT (RichmondParliamentary Secretary for Trade) (20:13): I am very pleased to be speaking on the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011, because I know what a very positive impact it will have for people within my electorate and indeed all Australians. Having e-health records is such a vital part of improving access to health services for all Australians. It will improve the way health information is shared. In fact, many people are often surprised to learn that their medical records are not at the moment easily transferrable between health practitioners and associated health entities, particularly as we live in such an electronic age. When I talk to people in the community about the benefits of e-health they are often quite surprised—and very enthusiastic—about what this government is doing to improve access to health, particularly through these wonderful e-health initiatives. Electronic health records really are a central part and a very important element of this government's very vital health reforms, some of which I will run through later on. It has been the health reforms of this government that have made such a major improvement to the lives of so many Australians. Let us look at the issue of electronic health records. There is very widespread community support for this. This has been called for by many people within the health sector for many years, with much support from clinicians and the health technology industry. Indeed, many patients and health consumers right across the community are providing a lot of support. They are very united in the call for electronic health records. In fact, I find bizarre any opposition to it because it really is such a great initiative by this government.

Let us have a look at the healthcare system at the moment when it comes to the reason why we need to have e-health records. When we look at our current system, what we see is a fragmentation of the healthcare system. That means patients often have to retell their story when they visit different health providers, so you literally have a situation where they are often carrying copies of their own health records and they are going around to see different health providers. We know that this situation causes so many problems and the result of those can often be poor communication as to symptoms and medications while remembering that it is a very stressful time for people travelling around and seeing different specialists. So it can cause a lot of problems and that can then result sometimes in unnecessary tests—tests that may have been performed previously. That can really add to the very distressing situation for those patients, particularly elderly ones.

What we also know when we look at some of the facts is that hospital statistics already dictate that at least 17 per cent of tests are necessary duplications. We know that medication errors account for 190,000 hospital admissions each year and 18 per cent of medical errors are attributed to poor patient information. So when we look at that fragmentation of our system and the current reality of it we can see the very real need to have e-health records.

E-health records will have the capacity to contain summary health information such as conditions, medications, allergies and records of medical events created by healthcare providers. The records will also be able to include discharge summaries from hospitals, information from Medicare systems and some information entered by the consumers themselves. So we are looking at a very widespread amount of information.

Looking at all of that we can really see the need to have e-health records right throughout our community. This is given the very widespread support for this initiative and it being part of the Gillard government's commitment to major health reforms. This government committed $467 million in the 2010 federal budget to a two-year program to build the infrastructure for personally controlled electronic health records. That really is a reflection of our major commitment when it comes to providing e-health, because we understand how necessary it is.

I noted before that the previous speaker raised some concerns that have been reported, so I would like to make the situation very clear as to some of the allegations that have been made in relation to the funding for e-health. Some of the suggestions that she put forward are certainly very wrong. There are two main sources of funding for the e-health agenda: (1) the personally controlled electronic health records allocation and (2) the COAG approved funding. Both the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Program and the COAG funded e-health program are within budget. The personally controlled electronic health records allocation is $467 million over two years. This allocation goes towards the National E-Health Transition Authority, Medicare support, the 12 e-health pilot sites and the national infrastructure partner. The National E-Health Transition Authority also receives funding from COAG of currently $218 million over three years. The Commonwealth contributes 50 per cent of this funding, which is around $109 million. The Commonwealth's portion of this funding is used for e-health related activities other than the personally controlled electronic health records system, such as healthcare identifiers, e-prescribing, standards and specifications, and the National Authentication Service for Health. That certainly clears up some of the very false allegations that have been raised by opposition members, some of which have been reported previously, when it comes to the specific funding of it.

Whilst there will be major benefits—in fact, great benefits—Australia-wide from e-health records, it is in regional areas like mine, the electorate of Richmond, that it will be particularly important in the benefits it will bring, especially when we look at the rollout of telehealth and also the National Broadband Network, all part of the major reforms of this government. In my electorate there is widespread support in the community for e-health records, particularly as Richmond has one of the highest proportions of elderly Australians. For example, an elderly person having to visit numerous specialists—often due to the very complex nature of elderly Australians' health issues—will be greatly assisted by having e-health records. Many elderly people in my electorate have noted that, because, as I have said previously, it is a very distressing time for them having to go around to see many health professionals. I have another example, a totally different one. A person comes to my electorate for a holiday and requires medical attention. They might be rushed to hospital but their detailed patient history is unavailable under the current system. This could lead to very poor patient outcomes. Under the system of e-health records they will be able to access that. So you can see the benefits at all ends of the spectrum in utilising e-health records. As I said, all this is part of this government's commitment to improving Australia's health and hospital system.

I would also like to add that in my electorate we have seen so many commitments from the government to providing better healthcare services. There is one that I would be particularly pleased to report on. Prior to the last election we made a commitment, if the Gillard government was re-elected, that there would be $7 million towards a GP superclinic at Tweed Heads. I am really happy to be able to tell the House that this is certainly underway. It is a wonderful initiative. In fact, we turned the sod for the clinic in September. The tender went to a fantastic group of local GPs. Ausjendia is the company that they run. These are GPs with about 30 or 40 years of local experience and I know they are very keen on e-health initiatives as well—and having a GP superclinic there will make such a big difference to the people of Tweed Heads and the surrounding region. So that is just part of this government's commitment when I look at my electorate and the impacts of our health reforms.

I would also like to touch on some of the concerns that have been raised in relation to privacy and e-health records. I understand that there have been a number of concerns and that these have been addressed and the safeguards have been identified. These records will be truly personally controlled records with new consent settings for sensitive information and auditing that is not currently in existence for paper based records. The central theme of our system in the bill is that any Australian can register for an e-health record and they alone will choose the security settings as to who can access the records and to what extent they can be accessed. The bill provides very clear privacy protections, prescribing the circumstances in which registered consumers and organisations can collect, use or disclose information, and it imposes civil penalties for any unauthorised collection, use or disclosure. Of course all registered consumers and organisations will be subject to the Privacy Act as well. Those privacy concerns have been addressed because that is vitally important in what is, yes, a very complex and major initiative. All these areas have been canvassed and looked at.

This government continues to deliver better health and hospital services for all communities, and e-health builds on some of those great initiatives. It is the federal Labor government that is delivering jobs, growth and fairness in health care and public hospitals. I want to run through some of our record in relation to that. Let us look at jobs. There is training for an extra 1,000 nurses every year.

Mr Fletcher: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is not relevant to the bill, which concerns personally controlled electronic health records, to be running through the Labor government's record.

Ms Plibersek: Mr Deputy Speaker, on the point of order: the previous speaker ventured very far off track when talking about cybersafety and I did not take a point of order on that because at 8.30 at night we usually show each other a little bit of latitude on these things.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Mr Deputy Speaker, clearly the question of cyber-risk that was raised was very relevant to the bill. It was quite apparent that the member for Bradfield was drawing attention to the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary for Trade had run out of material and was just going back to an old litany of things that the government chant out when there is nothing to say.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): I will listen to the Parliamentary Secretary for Trade. If she goes off the bill I will bring her back to the bill.

Mrs ELLIOT: Mr Deputy Speaker, I am happy to provide more detailed information as to how all facets of the health system will have greater usage of the e-health systems and to what it needs. Yes, it does relate to the bill because we are providing more services to people who will be using e-health services. Certainly the extra 1,000 nurses we have trained and the extra 5½ thousand doctors we have trained will all be able to provide better services because of the e-health records that exist right throughout our health system, and we are making sure we have more people trained to use them. Our extra 44 specialist breast cancer nurses will be accessing e-health records for their patient care, whether it be in a community health setting or in GP clinics. Those people will be using e-health services in our hospitals as well. We have increased hospital funding by 50 per cent, and it will be in those hospitals that they will be accessing e-health services. Some of the people in the extra 1,300 federally funded hospital beds will be accessing e-health services as well, and people in the extra 13,000 residential aged-care beds that the federal Labor government has provided can access e-health services as well. These e-health services relate to all the things this federal Labor government has done to improve health and hospital services.

Right across the country we have been improving services, whether they be in hospital settings or in community health settings. Of course this is all very different to what the opposition did when they were in government. What did the Leader of the Opposition do when he was health minister? He cut $1 billion from our healthcare system. That is how he views, and how much he values, health care—he cut $1 billion from it.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Rubbish!

Mrs ELLIOT: It is a fact that he did. But it is this government that has committed major funding to it. The opposition has said that in government they will slash the $467 million that this government has committed to e-health. We know that is how they feel about it. They will slash it because they do not have the commitment that we do. They do not have a commitment to providing the services we have said we will provide because we know how important they are. We know how long people have been calling for e-health initiatives like this. The opposition have said they will cut them.

It is only Labor that has this commitment to providing access to world-class health care for all Australians and it is only Labor that can be trusted to keep our health and hospital system strong. I see that all the time in my own electorate. I see it with the extra funding for the hospitals. I see it through the GP superclinic that is going to be built in Tweed Heads. I see it through funding for GP infrastructure. I speak to people every day who see the benefits of a federal Labor government and what the Gillard government is providing on the ground in health and hospital services.

I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, there is a lot of enthusiasm around the fact that e-health is so desperately needed in the community, and people are responding very positively to the fact that it is a federal Labor government that is providing it. I commend the bill to the House.