No opt out for Vic health sharing scheme as bill passes
Victorians won't be able to opt out from having their health records digitalised and shared in a central system after a contentious bill passed parliament.
The upper house passed the Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill on Thursday afternoon, with the final vote 21 to 16.
Greens, Animal Justice and Legalise Cannabis crossbenchers voted for the legislation after the government adopted amendments.
The changes strengthened oversight and privacy protections but did not include an opt-out clause akin to the federal government's My Health Record scheme.
Once rubber stamped by the Labor-dominated lower house, the incoming laws will enable public hospitals and other health services to electronically share patient information through a central database.
Domestic violence and stalking victims, legal minds, civil liberty groups and cyber experts have been critical of a scheme not allowing people to opt out.
Some 10,000 members of the public also signed a petition to call on the bill to maintain patient consent and privacy.
Without the support of key crossbenchers, the Andrews government agreed to mandate a privacy management framework to better protect the identity of those at risk of harm, such as domestic violence survivors.
Other changes enhanced sensitive information safeguards and a guarantee patients can obtain the names of people who have access to their medical records.
The system will also be independently reviewed by a three-person panel two years after coming online to ensure it is working as intended and health information is sufficiently protected.
Before the vote, Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said doctors have shared patients' health information over the phone and via fax since time immemorial.
"What we are doing here is enabling the sharing of vital information, life-saving information, through a different platform," she said.
"It's a very sensible reform."
But Liberty Victoria said proponents of the legislation were using a "straw man" argument, and it was not acceptable to justify the model on the grounds it is done in states like NSW or is better than the status quo.
"No one takes issue that the sharing of health information is convenient and helpful. But people have the right to consent over whether they want their personal health information shared," it tweeted.
Lizzie Blandthorn, the government's deputy leader in the upper house, said the government had widely consulted on the bill for two years, including with critics such as Liberty Victoria and the Law Institute of Victoria.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier questioned the value of the government's amendments, which Ms Blandthorn said would further enhance security.
"This is just to placate a number of crossbenchers to get the bill through the chamber," she said.
Amendments from the opposition and Liberal Democrat MP David Limbrick to create either an opt-in or out-opt clause were defeated.
The legislative changes are not due to come into effect until February 2024 to give the health department time to design, construct and commission the database.
Unauthorised medical staff face up to two years in prison if they use the database to access patient details.