Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 03 Hansard (Thursday, 18 March 2010) . . Page.. 1078 ..
This legislation flies in the face of the previous ACT Labor position, which was that there was nothing that it could do to improve GP services in this town. Indeed, this forms one of about 30 recommendations in that task force report, and I do look forward to other elements of that task force report being brought forward by the minister in a timely fashion to this Assembly either for debate or for action.
The minister outlined the objectives of the bill in her presentation speech, and the opposition support these and other measures that would strengthen consumer access to health records. We have sought and received feedback from various groups, most notably the ACT Division of General Practice and the Health Care Consumers Association, both of whom strongly support this legislation. But, as I understand it, that is conditional on the government fulfilling various undertakings during the implementation phase. We will, of course, be monitoring the government to ensure that they do follow through on their commitments.
From my discussions with stakeholders, I understand that the government has committed to a comprehensive communication campaign to ensure that consumers are aware of their rights and that health record keepers are aware of their obligations under the proposed changes. I also understand the government will be providing a plain English information pack outlining those changes.
Such activity should actually be part and parcel of any significant change in legislation, so I am disappointed that these had to be promised as a result of significant lobbying by relevant stakeholders in order to gain their support, but I cannot say that I am overly surprised. I hope that, in conducting its awareness campaign, the minister ensures that health practitioners that manage health records outside of general practice—such as specialist medicine, dentistry, allied health and so on—are all included so that they also are cognisant of how these changes affect them.
The opposition has also received feedback from individual doctors who are not supportive of this legislation and who have raised concerns about what they consider to be unwarranted government interference in the area of health records, increased red tape and increased administrative costs. Of course, we value our GPs highly and we do not take lightly decisions that may have negative impacts on them. We are very aware of the burden of red tape and bureaucracy that is imposed on our GPs in this jurisdiction and, indeed, in other jurisdictions. I am confident, though, that the measures contained in the bill do strike a balance between the needs and expectations of consumers and the responsibilities of record keepers.
One issue that has been raised which will certainly need to be raised in the not-too-distant future is the issue of electronic health records and the challenges that they pose in terms of safe and secure management and appropriate dissemination. Complexities also arise when dealing with the possibilities of various-point-in-time versions of an e-health record. This is, perhaps, an area of policy that may be best determined at the national level, and we await further action from the government on this issue.
I would finally like to add that consultation on this bill with stakeholders could have been done better by the government. Despite the minister’s strong remarks to the