Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 15 Hansard (Thursday, 10 December 2009) . . Page.. 5638 ..
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
It is with great pleasure I present to the Assembly today the Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 (No 2). The bill adopts a majority of the legislative amendments recommended by the ACT GP Taskforce in its final report entitled General practice and sustainable primary health care—the way forward, which I tabled in the Assembly in September this year.
The GP Taskforce final report suggests that the recent mergers and closures of GP practices in Canberra have caused significant concern and disruption to the local community regarding access to health records. No doubt it is in the wake of a period of increased general practice movement that critical gaps in health records legislation have come to the surface, requiring our considered attention. Some of the areas identified by the task force needing particular attention include establishing appropriate requirements for practice closures and relocations, including strengthening notification requirements and clarifying time frames.
Consequently, this bill seeks to amend the Health Records (Privacy and Access) Act 1997 to do the following things:
• it requires that a practice provide a period of four weeks notice to consumers and the community before a closure, merger or relocation of a practice;
• it enables the prioritisation of urgent requests for the transfer of health records;
• it clarifies that consumers can only ask for a copy of their health record and not an original;
• it also clarifies the time frames around when a requested copy of a record must be provided by a record keeper;
• it introduces a requirement that practices notify ACT Health of practice closures, mergers or relocations; and
• it requires that when ACT Health is notified of a closure, merger or relocation of a practice, the ACT Health Services Commissioner be promptly informed of the notification.
It was indicated by the Health Services Commissioner and the GP Taskforce that confusion generally exists in the community regarding the law on whether or not a consumer can request an original of a health record. The bill seeks to clarify that, while consumers cannot request that an original be provided, a health service practice or record keeper may, at their discretion, provide an original. This being said, it would only be under exceptional circumstances that originals are provided.
While it is important that people have access to their health records, the scope of access should not be left open ended and unqualified. It is critically important, from a public health perspective, to minimise the risk that a health record be permanently lost due to inadequate policy foresight. The risk of not being able to continue care because of missing records, which may in serious circumstances lead to the loss of life, suggests that originals should remain with health record keepers who will be required to notify their movements to ACT Health under this bill. With a joint requirement that practices and record keepers notify their movements to ACT Health who must then notify the Health Services Commissioner, a health record will always be able to be