THE HON CATHERINE KING MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT
WEDNESDAY, 1 AUGUST 2018
SUBJECT/S: The Turnbull Government’s botched rollout of the My Health Record.
Catherine King, Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare: Thanks everybody – I’m Catherine King, the Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare and I want to make some comments about the government’s decision overnight to change some of the legislation and settings for the My Health Record. In particular, Minister Hunt’s response to this fiasco that has become the implementation of the My Health Record is entirely inadequate. We’ve had weeks where the Minister has been out there saying there is nothing to see here, there is no problem, particularly no problem when it comes to the legislative provisions relating to court orders and access by law enforcement bodies. We now see that, again, that was entirely untrue. We don’t believe that anything less than a suspension of the opt-out of the My Health Record, whilst the Government rebuilds community trust in the My Health Record, will be sufficient. This Government has presided over a failure of implementation, and it comes with a litany of other failures. When it comes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme implementation, when it came to Census fail, when it comes to the roll out of the National Broadband Network, this is a Government that is happy to stand there and get plaudits for the announcement of issues, but it is lazy when it comes to the implementation. The My Health Record is a very important reform. It is an important reform that needs community trust. While every single day we are seeing more and more questions raised about the implementation of the My Health Record, the Government has no choice but to suspend the opt-out rollout.
We’ve seen today claims around domestic violence survivors, the possibility that non-custodial parents may be able to create records for their children and use those records to track down the location of their children and their partners. The government needs to deal with that issue. The government needs to deal with the issues around cyber security. In the last two years, we’ve seen increasing concerns about the security of data. People are beginning to realise that their data that they may have given willingly is being used for commercial purposes that they may not have signed up to. Again, the government needs to do that. We welcome that the government has, of course, listened to Labor, and, of course, listened to the AMA and doctors’ groups and consumers’ groups about the concerns. But they have not gone far enough, and nothing sort of a suspension while these issues are sorted out, while we have a very strong community education campaign about the benefits and what the My Health Record will and won’t do, and how privacy and security will be protected the government really is going to continue reeling on this issue. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Do you think there is a fair bit of confusion amongst Australians about what they understand (inaudible) in terms of privacy and particularly those who have decided to opt out already?
KING: I think that there is substantial confusion in the Australian community about the My Health Record: what data will be collected, who will see it, how their privacy will be protected and how the security of data will actually be ensured? And it’s no wonder that there is confusion, because this is a failure of implementation. The government has not gone and engaged in a community education campaign to explain to people what the My Health Record is. They’ve entered immediately into the opt-out period, without actually bringing the Australian public with them. And the reform will continue to fail until the Australian public has faith in it.
REPORTER: Are you concerned though that a suspension will add more confusion, that people will think it’s a termination and not a suspension?
KING: No, I think what the government needs to do is say – we are putting this opt-out period on hold. We want to explain to the Australian public, not just through primary health network s or through GPs, but also directly to the Australian public what the benefits of the My Health Record will be, what data is on it, how people can actually change their security settings to ensure certain people don’t have access to the data, answer questions around what happens in relation to, for example, survivors of domestic violence. We’ve also had disability groups, for example, come and talk to us about how are they being assisted in this process to actually understand what is happening with their data. We’ve had concerns raised by unions saying we’re very concerned about third party access in relation to worker’s compensation claims and those insurance bodies and what is the government actually doing to protect against that and also to protect against private health insurers misusing the data in any way. We’re concerned, obviously, about the use of commercial purposes of the data. The Government needs to explain all of this. If it’s got answers to those questions, and on some of those, it may, it actually needs to take the time to talk to the Australian public about that and provide that reassurance that we don’t have that reassurance today.
REPORTER: Why don’t you feel that third party access has been addressed by the privacy changes announced today?
KING: What the privacy changes – again, we haven’t seen the detail of the legislative amendments that the Government wants to make, and we will look at those in some detail and we’ll see whether we can support them, whether they go far enough, we’ll have a look at them but there’s no details on that today. It is unclear, in terms of some of the third party access regulations, which actually haven’t been made available yet, there’s a framework that’s available, exactly how far that’s going to go. Often, you know, the purpose of some of that third party access is really around providing stronger research. So for example, we know that some of the cancer cures or some of the transformations in our healthcare system will come by examining that big data and that will be an important part of this reform. But what we done want to see is it being used for things like denying worker’s compensation claims or private health insurers using it to selectively target people for particular private health insurance products or other purposes. That’s the really critical part. We also need to know that the security of the system, that the password security for health professionals’ access is not compromised and will not compromise the date. All of these questions are questions that people have very valid concerns about and have every right to raise but the government has done absolutely nothing to provide clear and unambiguous answers about those, and I think, until it does, the community will not have faith in this reform that again I say that is an important reform to the healthcare system.
REPORTER: It started as an opt-in service and turned into an opt-out service, do you think that needs to be looked at and for those many people who have been convinced by their friends and family to opt-out if the government does make these changes through a suspension, how easy should it be for people to be able to opt back in?
KING: Thank you – look certainly this system did start as an opt-in system so a system based on informed consent. This government then took the decision to go to an opt-out system. It then didn’t, in great incompetence didn’t go back and look at the enabling legislation to ensure that that legislation then fitted what is a very different system, not based on informed consent but based on if you don’t opt out, then you will have a record created for you in any event. I think, again, it is really important that the Government, if it wants the Australian community to have faith in this reform, it needs to explain that to the Australian public. I think I welcome today. I saw Minister Hunt has said that you will be able to cancel records. That’s been one of the concerns people have raised. Again, we don’t have a lot of detail about that. And we don’t have a lot of detail about what that will mean going forward into the future and we’ll examine that.
REPORTER: Is Labor concerned though with so much confusion around the record system that people will just say it’s easier to opt out – I’d rather back away.
KING: Absolutely, I think we are already seeing in the first few days alone, some 20,000 people have opted out. There were of course also, again going to problems with implementation, problems with actually being able to opt out. My electorate office, for example, was inundated with people trying to get through the Digital Health Agency by phone or by the website and who were unable to do that, and I know that that is replicated across electorate offices across the country, because many of my colleagues have rung me to complain about that and the volume of calls that they’re getting. So again, this is an important reform, but it is a reform that is based on trust with the Australian public, and the way that this Government, again, has failed to implement this properly and has broken that trust and they need to work very, very hard to regain it. And it is a pattern with this Government – from the NDIS to the National Broadband Network rollout, to the Census fail this is what they’re there for, they’re there for the announcement but they’re lazy and not there for the proper implementation of the programs.
REPORTER: It seems to be so much fuss about something that many people in the community question what is even the point of having this system. Do you think there has been enough education, publicity if you will about why we are going through this in the first place?
KING: Clearly there has not been enough education about why this is an important reform, why the My Health Record is important, and why it’s important to be able to share between health professionals, information about people’s health. For example, if you’re admitted to a public hospital and there’s a range of tests done in that public hospital, and you need to go to your GP or you’re referred back to your GP or your pharmacist the next day, being able to actually know what tests have been conducted and what medication has been prescribed actually a safety issue for patients. It’s important for that data and information to be shared. We also know that many people who have experienced chronic disease, or have experienced other health issues, don’t want to necessarily keep repeating the same information over and over again to various health professionals. But the very essence of the My Health system is that it meant to be controlled by you. The data is controlled by you, who sees that data is controlled by you, and the Government has done nothing to explain that, nothing to explain why it’s important in terms of the healthcare reform and why it actually might improve safety and quality in healthcare into the longer term. Those sorts of things mean that public trust in this reform is being eroded. We’ve spent ten years as a country trying to get this right. This government in just two weeks has actually eroded trust in what is an important healthcare reform.
REPORTER: Is it ever possible to get over all of the privacy concerns though considering that if information is in one sport it obviously opens it up to greater abuse?
KING: Yeah, of course there are issues of privacy and then there are issues around security of data. I think the government is kidding itself if it thinks there will not be a breach of data at some stage. We know that we’ve seen that internationally, with the best security systems in the world there is, frequently, we are beginning to see breaches of this data. I think the issue then is around what are the protections that people have when this data is breached. What actually happens if media outlets for example decide to publish that information and data, what does that mean for the person involved and what are the sanctions or penalties? We haven’t really had that debate so I think there is a lot more that the Australian community needs reassurance about both from the privacy point of view, who sees their data, how do you make sure that health professionals even for example are not using this data inappropriately and what are the sanctions if they do, those sorts of things as well as then what happens with the security of the data. Again all of these questions that keep coming out on a daily and weekly basis, until the government can confidently explain these to the Australian public, I don’t think it’s got a choice but to suspend the opt-out period.