Health Minister Greg Hunt will re-draft the My Health record legislation.
Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Australians may be given an extra month to opt out of the MyHealth Record after Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt agreed to tear up the legislation behind the controversial system to protect patients from having their medical records accessed by police.
Following crisis talks with the head of the Australian Medical Association in Melbourne on Tuesday night, Mr Hunt confirmed the My Health Record Act will be redrafted to ensure "no record can be released to police or government agencies, for any purpose, without a court order."
Mr Hunt was due to meet with state and territory health ministers in Alice Springs on Wednesday night and said in advance of that meeting he would consider extending the opt-out deadline beyond October 15.
"So, the medical groups have asked if we could extend for an additional month. I am disposed to that," Mr Hunt told ABC's AM program.
Doctors and privacy experts were particularly concerned about provisions in the legislation to allow police access to the records without a warrant.
"The Digital Health Agency’s policy is clear and categorical - no documents have been released in more than six years and no documents will be released without a court order. This will be enshrined in legislation."
Mr Hunt said the reform would "remove any ambiguity on this matter".
He added that the legislation would also be amended to ensure that if any Australian wished to cancel their record, they could do so permanently, with their record deleted from the system.
AMA President Tony Bartone told Fairfax Media that he had enjoyed a "frank and constructive discussion" with Mr Hunt and welcomed the Minister's decision, which he said would allow patients to make "an informed choice".
"In addition, we’ve also impressed upon the Minister that there’s a need to have some clear air, to ensure that the community has time to fully understand what is a My Health Record and what is entailed in the opt out process," Dr Bartone said.
It is understood that support for a redrafting of the legislation emerged within the Liberal Party after last weekend's byelections, in which Labor bolstered its position in part by attacking the Turnbull government's record on health.
Labor health spokeswoman Katherine King yesterday said Mr Hunt had not gone far enough and that the roll-out should be suspended until women fleeing domestic violence can be sure their privacy is protected.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson also came out against the system, posting detailed instructions on how her supporters can opt out.
Queensland Health Minister Dr Steven Miles has threatened to disrupt the three-month opt-out roll-out period, calling for this week's Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on Thursday between states and territories to discuss whether to suspend it.
Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has also raised concerns with Mr Hunt and the Australian Digital Health Agency, which is administering the scheme, while former AMA President Kerryn Phelps highlighted concerns with the legislation and warned that GPs may boycott the system.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Harry Nespolon, who has opted out, last week told Fairfax Media that he believed the government would have "no choice" but to redraft the legislation after backlash from patients and doctors.