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Thursday, 17 October 1974
Page: 1807

Senator McLAREN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. I ask: Has the Minister's attention been drawn to a notice which appeared in the 'Border Chronicle' of 3 October 1974 under the names of Dr D. R. T. Evans, Dr W. A. D. Ramsey and Dr D. C. Walker of Bordertown, South Australia, whereby they threaten to withdraw from the pensioner medical service? If so, will the Minister say what Federal body the doctors were referring to and what are its functions? Is it normal procedure for such a Federal body to seek confidential medical information from private medical practitioners who treat pensioner patients? Can the Minister state whether confidential medical information supplied by private medical practitioners is freely available to clerical and unknown medical personnel?

Senator WHEELDON (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Repatriation and Compensation) -As honourable senators will appreciate I am a frequent reader of the Border Chronicle'. I feel that it is in no way inferior in the information provided, its literary style and its intellectual content to most of the newspapers published in this country. I was therefore rather disturbed when I read the public notice that was inserted in it by the 3 medical practitioners to whom Senator McLaren has referred. Those practitioners made the complaints along the lines indicated in the 'Border Chronicle'. I asked my colleague to prepare some notes on this matter after I read the article. It appears that the doctors are referring to the medical services committee of inquiry in South Australia. The committee consists of 5 members of whom 4 are nominated by the Australian Medical Association. The task of this committee is to inquire into and report to the Minister or the director-general regarding the services and the conduct of medical practitioners in connection with their duties in the provision of medical services under the pensioner medical service.

The committee, of which 80 per cent are members of the Australian Medical Association, was empowered- when this question was referred to it- to seek whatever information it considered relevant in order to enable it to conduct its investigations. It is normal practice for the committee to ask the medical practitioner concerned to forward clinical notes covering pensioner patients listed in the terms of reference. All of the information relevant to these cases is received and kept on a confidential basis. The information is available only to members of the committee, the secretary who is an officer of the Department of Social Security and senior officers of the State branch of the Department of Social Security. It is made available to those people only when the nature of the duties of these officers necessitates that they should have access to this information. The Minister for Social Security believes that the notice inserted by the doctors is couched in most unfortunate terms. It is a pity that they should have placed this notice in a paper such as the Border Chronicle'. The particular request to which they were referring was in fact addressed to Dr Evans.

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