Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 03 Hansard (Thursday, 18 March 2010) . . Page.. 1079 ..
contrary in her presentation speech, the feedback that I have received is that there were concerns with the way that the consultation was conducted. Having said that, again, we do support this legislation both in substance and in intent and we will be supporting the bill today. I congratulate and commend those members of ACT Health who have worked tirelessly on this and other elements of legislation lately. They have certainly been busy. I also commend Ms Gallagher, the minister; I congratulate her on bringing this forward, and I look forward to other initiatives that are contained in the task force report that can improve our access to GPs here in the ACT.
MS BRESNAN (Brindabella) (10.19): The ACT Greens will be supporting the Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 (No 2). We, too, are concerned about the manner in which GP practices have been able to close without giving fair warning to their clients and without making their health records available to them. There have been a number of closures in recent years. For those members of our community that require frequent access to their GP, to find out their GP practice is closing or merging with another one can be quite distressing. The consumer needs to establish quickly where they will be able to go in the future and whether they can make all their health records available to their next GP.
My office has consulted with key health organisations, and they support the moves which are being proposed through this bill. There were some issues raised, one being the fees a consumer would have to pay to access their health records in the lead-up to the GP practice closing. In the past, I believe, this was the only circumstance in which fees could not be imposed, and this is changing under the new legislation. But at least the legislation will now acknowledge that people should not have access to their health records denied if they cannot afford to pay a fee and that the appropriate action is debt recovery rather than effectively withholding medical treatment.
I expect there to be some debate later this year when the determination of fees for access to health records is updated. Already the fees seem quite expensive, especially for those people who are on low incomes. They range from about $35 to $70, so there may be an argument from GP practices in the future that those fees should go up to reflect the increased number of people accessing records. The other side to this is that GP practices should build the cost of this service into their business costs and general fees and that the government should provide concessions to people who are on low incomes. I will be interested in this discussion when it happens later this year.
The ACT Division of General Practice has also highlighted that there are some deficiencies in the legislation, given the increased use of electronic health records and that these can be duplicated with several versions developing over time. Hopefully, national e-health developments in coming years will mitigate this problem.
The Health Care Consumers Association and the Division of General Practice have also commented that it is important that ACT Health make consumers and GPs well aware of their rights and responsibilities. Fact sheets need to be made available and be well advertised so that people know about the new rules. Overall, this bill is a good one and is well supported in the community. The Greens are pleased to see these changes being made.