Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (27 October) . . Page.. 2260 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
In balancing those rights which the scrutiny of Bills committee saw fit to make some reference to against the greater good of quality assurance scrutiny of our private sector health providers, we may accept that a limited diminution of those rights is appropriate.
MR MOORE (Minister for Health and Community Care) (12.05), in reply: I would like to begin by responding to the issues that Mr Stanhope has raised. The first one concerns the letter from my office to the scrutiny of Bills committee on 1 October saying that the end of November or mid-November was when we would see a response. I looked at the issues that had come from the scrutiny of Bills committee and decided with my staff that in fact we could do much better than that. We put pressure on the department and asked them for a more effective response, and that was forthcoming. I certainly appreciate the effort that the officers from the Department of Health and from the Department of Justice and Community Safety put in to ensure a response as quickly as possible.
Traditionally, there have been two ways to respond to scrutiny of Bills committee reports. One is to prepare the amendments where that is entirely appropriate and the other is to use the Assembly as the forum for your response. Additionally, I have written a letter to Mr Osborne - he probably does not have it yet as I signed it off only a few minutes ago - dealing with this range of issues.
I will now deal specifically with the fourth issue, in respect of which we have put up amendments, and deal generally with the other three issues. On the other three issues, Mr Stanhope, you put your finger exactly on the problem. They are about balance. They are about balancing the individual's rights against broader health concerns. It was my personal decision - and I was able to persuade Cabinet - that in this case the broader health issues, the broader good that would come out of very careful scrutiny of what went on where a medical procedure had failed or where there was some criticism, outweighed the individual's rights. It is a shift in balance and it is something that members have to make their own mind up about. I must say that I could understand why somebody would oppose those issues.
I have often argued in here in favour of protecting individual rights, but we all know that there is a balance in achieving the best outcome. I believe the individual rights of medical practitioners or health professionals within a hospital system will not be put so much in jeopardy by a committee that is looking very carefully at a set of issues, even though they have lost their right to sue for defamation and so on. It will allow a freer discussion of what went wrong, what happened and whether there was negligence. We are only talking about a private hospital. A committee looking at these issues will allow a hospital to change its practices to ensure that we get the best possible health outcomes for individuals who are in private hospitals. This already exists in public hospitals.
I will now give some more detail. I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety for its comments on the Bill. I think they provided a particularly good insight. They have allowed us to improve the legislation so that it leads to the more effective operation of quality assurance committees in ACT hospitals.