Victorian health records sharing bill hits upper house

Proposed laws to create a centralised Victorian health database have returned to the floor of state parliament, sparking furious debate.

Debate on the Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill began in the upper house on Tuesday ahead of an expected vote on Thursday.

The bill, which was revived after lapsing following the November state election, would enable public hospitals and other health services to more easily share patient information through a centralised database.

Domestic violence survivors, legal practitioners, civil liberty groups and cyber experts have voiced fears personal information could fall into the wrong hands if the database is hacked or inappropriately accessed by health staff.

Amendments have been moved by the opposition to add an opt-out clause, similar to the federal government's My Health Record.

One in ten Victorians opted out of the federal scheme.

Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the government would not amend the bill to include an opt-out scheme, but Labor will need the support of at least six crossbenchers for it to pass the upper house.

Upper house Labor MP John Berger accused the media of "whipping up a frenzy" and "using victims of stalking to create false equivalency".

"It's disingenuous and wrong. Make no mistake, this information sharing already occurs," he said.

"Our hospitals share medical records over the phone or ad hoc, and this is not sustainable and it's reckless.

"It pains me that this debate has become about privacy. It pains me that we must humour these arguments because it's about patient healthcare."

The opposition's deputy upper house leader Matt Bach said Mr Berger's comments showed a lack of respect to organisations expressing privacy concerns, including the Law Institute of Victoria.

"I would trust (Law Institute president) Tania Wolff over those opposite any day," he said.

The Greens are seeking to negotiate with the government to enhance privacy protections, set up an independent review of the system and guarantee patients can obtain their health information and learn who has accessed it.

"Victoria's public hospitals have needed this for decades, so it's good to see the government having another go at fixing it," said the party's acting health spokesman Tim Read.

"But trust and communication are critical to the delivery of safe and effective care. Patients need to have confidence their information will be protected."

Under the legislation, medical staff would face up to two years in prison for accessing patient details through the database without authorisation.