Health Legislation Amendment (information sharing) Bill 2023

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (16:36): I am pleased to rise to make a brief contribution today on the Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2023. If you listen – and I have been listening – to the debate, all is rosy in the health sector under the Andrews government. ‘All is well; trust us, all will be well’ is the overarching theme that I have heard while I have been sitting in the Parliament.

This government has certainly been a progressive government. It has made social reforms like never before. Many a time I have heard in this chamber about giving Victorians choice. We want to enable you to have more choice – more choice about your body, more choice about what you can do with your body. We heard the previous contributor just then talk about the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017, how you can choose through a whole variety of steps to end your life, providing that choice. What we are asking on this side of the house is to continue that theme about choice, to enable Victorians to opt out of this information sharing scheme, this information sharing legislation, to provide them with autonomy, with their own right to take control of their health – as much as we can take control of our own health. There is a need to better share information; there is a reason. This bill has merit, but give Victorians a choice.

The bill in essence establishes an electronic platform for patient information sharing to provide, in its benefits, access about a patient’s conditions. They can be a variety of conditions. They can be previous treatments, current medications, allergies, alerts, admissions, discharge summaries, outpatient consultations, laboratory and imaging results. I am sure we have all had our bodies looked at and scanned in some form or other, and we value those assessments.

The other thing that the bill will do in its current form is make it mandatory – and here is that word ‘mandatory’; we have heard it a lot over the COVID pandemic – that specified health services adopt a new health information platform: metropolitan hospitals, multipurpose services, denominational hospitals, public service hospitals, registered community health services, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, public aged care facilities and the Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing. Also we have heard on one hand in the bill briefing that GPs will not be included in this, and then we have heard from others from the government on the other side of the benches that GPs will be included in this, so that needs to be clarified.

I have had constituents come to me who are very frustrated with the current system, and I can give you an example without naming names.

At a local hospital in Eastern Victoria Region an elderly father went in, had multiple health issues, and the family provided information. His health was deteriorating, and he was moved from our smaller hospital over to a larger centre in Gippsland. The family went over and again related the medication, the information, the high-alert things that should be known, like when to have his medication, whatever it be, diabetes medication – it is better for him in the morning. They provided all that information. Then a couple of days later it was not given in the right sequence, and they went back to the new set of doctors or the new set of nurses that are there in the same hospital. I am not sure how this will be the panacea to that issue. If it improves it, that is good, but there are constituents who, under the shadow of COVID, feel very nervous about enabling this information to be shared. We all have had constituents or members of the public write to us – I think the government benches have said it is all ‘scarecrow tactics’ or something like that – with their genuine concerns about if information is adversely shared. They are keeping their privacy. Their privacy is absolutely paramount to their safety and the safety of their children. If that is somehow shared on a platform – and we have seen an example of that in the media – then their mental health can be eroded. If they cannot have an opt-out provision, their mental health can be eroded. Do we not care? Do we not consider that mental health is part of our overall health as human beings and our nature of living?

I put it to the crossbench – and I thank them for listening to the arguments that Ms Crozier and others have put forward, and I thank Ms Crozier for the great deal of concern she has and the in-depth work that she has put into this over many years – that we should have an opt-out clause. Indeed that commonwealth health platform My Health Record has shown that 2.5 million Australians have decided to opt out. They feel more comfortable with that. Many people will not care if their information is shared from pillar to post, but some will, and I think it is a retrograde step if we do not allow opting out to happen. Also in this bill there is a denial in that individuals – again, choice – cannot FOI the department to see who has been speaking to whom about information.

Matthew Bach interjected.

Melina BATH: I pick up Dr Bach’s concern around potentially Labor staffers being involved in some of that information sharing. The government will say that is not an issue. I think there are people that are concerned. Indeed I congratulate Mr Limbrick for putting forward a petition with 10,000 signatures over a small number of days. If it was not a concern, you would have had 1000 signatures. We do have 10,000.

The government has been spouting Targeting Zero: Supporting the Victorian Hospital System to Eliminate Avoidable Harm and Strengthen the Quality of Care. This is about quality of care. One of the recommendations is that the department should adopt a goal of ensuring that by 2021 – so we are behind the times already – major hospitals have full electronic health records that enable interchange of information with other hospitals. The difference is that this task force did not recommend an automatic sharing of every patient’s information with various health services and it did not recommend the sharing of patient information with the health department. I put to the house that the intent of this has merit. It does need to be amended – I think the government has amendments that we are yet to see. I would ask the crossbench to consider those Victorians who do not feel comfortable with their information being shared, who want the choice to opt out and who also want the choice to see what is going behind the system, and to put those amendments put forward by Ms Crozier in a positive light.

I also go back to the government saying that we have a leading world-class health service. We have heard from the AMA. We have heard from others about an 85,000 person – we will call it – elective waitlist. But we all know it is not superficial surgery, it is must-have surgery – and this waitlist is blowing out. I believe there should be an intense focus on that, particularly for our regional hospitals in my electorate – I am allowed to be parochial. These flaws in this bill need to be rectified if we are going to vote in favour of it.