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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8601

Senator SCULLION (7:39 PM) —I indicated earlier that we will be supporting this amendment, but I will just make a couple of comments. My first point is about the motive for the government saying that it will provide a medical practitioner as part of Medicare to scrutinise these things. We all thought that was pretty good and people thought they had a high level of safety. The reason they thought they had a high level of safety was not because a medical practitioner would know a knee bone from an elbow bone; it was because we respect doctors and we respect the Hippocratic oath. If your patient records eventually went somewhere, they were effectively not leaving the medical profession. That is the reason we are supporting Senator Fielding’s amendment. This discussion has concerned me a little bit and I think I have even more support for it now. I understand that we are saying, ‘Who would want to go and photocopy it?’

Senator Ludwig —The receptionist of the provider.

Senator SCULLION —Just hear me out, Minister. This is not mischievous; I am just trying to quickly get to the nub of this. Are we now saying that these records would be copied and filed? In the judicial system, they ensure that copies are not made or that they are certified copies and only certain people have access to them, and that is why it works. I am trying not to get the wrong end of the stick and I am not trying to assert that you are being loose and free with people’s records, but the notion that a medical practitioner would look at it and no-one else is something that I think we should stick to. We are not talking about voluminous notes. We are not talking about those sorts of administrative things. Frankly, nobody except the medical practitioner should be looking at patient records in any circumstances unless they are somehow de-identified, and those are not the circumstances we are talking about.

It may appear from Senator Fielding’s submission that it is more onerous, but so be it. We have already heard that in the last year there were some 765 people identified by the audit. Eventually it came down to only five prosecutions, but I think it would give Australians comfort to know the file actually belongs to a doctor and that someone who has taken the Hippocratic oath is the only person who will look at it. Whilst I understand that we need to ensure that we are efficient in this matter, Australians would say that the only people who should be looking at files are doctors.

One would assume we are not casually handing these files to people. I am quite sure that you would follow normal privacy procedures. Somebody has to file it but it would already be in an envelope and be covered up. Senator Fielding’s amendment does not interfere with any of those things. I am not trying to verbal Senator Fielding, and he will correct me if I am wrong, but I am assuming from this that the normal privacy provisions would apply to the material. If they are not medical practitioners then they should not be looking at it. Frankly, I think the fundamental point of having a medical practitioner there is not only that they know what they are doing but also that they are covered by the Hippocratic oath, and for those reasons we will be supporting Senator Fielding’s amendments.