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My Health Record – it’s not over yet

Lesley Russell writes:

The federal government is under increasing pressure to suspend the rollout of the controversial My Health Record (MHR). To date the number of Australians who have opted out of having their MHR created exceeds 1.1 million. Sadly, it appears no-one in government is listening to continuing public concerns which have not been assuaged in recent weeks.

Senate Committee report

The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report into the My Health Record system was released on 18 October. It recommends several substantial changes to the way My Health Record operates that attempt to address security and privacy concerns raised about the system.

Eleven of the 14 recommendations were supported by the entire committee. These include:

  • An absolute prohibition on the secondary use of MHR data for commercial purposes
  • Explicit consent required for secondary use of identifiable data from an individual’s MHR, such as for public health research purposes
  • A prohibition on employers and insurance companies accessing MHR data
  • A prohibition on access to deleted MHR data stored in backups
  • Extending the ability to suspend a MHR for longer periods to protect victims of domestic violence
  • Better education about the system, particularly for vulnerable users.

 

But several key further recommendations were not accepted by Coalition committee members. The three recommendations are:

  • That record access codes (effectively a PIN in order to gain access to each MHR) should be required as the default. An access code can be set currently but requires specific action.
  • Tighter restrictions on the ability of practitioners to access a MHR in an emergency without a record access code.
  • Changing current policy so that parents of children between 14 and 17 years of age and only have access to their children’s MHR if explicitly requested by the child.
  • That the opt-out period be extended by 12 months, so that the issues discussed in the committee’s report can be dealt with.

There is a good summary in this article in The Conversation.

Senate estimates revelations

Senate estimates last week revealed the following:

  • While Senator Nigel Scullion told Senate Estimates that the government is considering further amendments to its legislation to address privacy concerns raised by respected medical and privacy experts. However this has not been confirmed by Health Minister Greg Hunt.
  • Senator Scullion defended the government’s refusal to extend the opt-out period by a year beyond the current deadline, saying the government needed to push ahead so the benefits of the e-health system could be rolled out to the wider population. (However this legislation unlikely to be enacted before November 15 when the current opt-out period ends.)
  • The permanent “hard deletion” of patient records upon request, as per the government’s existing amendments, should be up and running by 7 December.
  • The cost of an advertising campaign to promote MHR has blown out from $5.45 million to $10.45 million after the opt-out period was extended and efforts to make Australians aware of the system were increased. The total communications budget for MHR was $27.8 million.

The new Member for Wentworth vows to pressure the government

Independent Dr Kerryn Phelps, the winner of the Wentworth by-election, has vowed to use her position on the crossbench to pressure a minority Morrison government on improving the MHR.

Dr Phelps has been a strident critic of MHR and has said she will push for a suspension of the system’s rollout and the establishment of a new inquiry to ensure that it is bullet proof. She is particularly concerned about the secondary use or sale of patient data.

Dr Phelps said the secondary use or sale of patient data remained unresolved despite the government having announced changes to prevent law enforcement from accessing medical records without a court order and ensure that records could be permanently deleted upon request.