FOI request for PCEHR review refused

The Department of Health has refused Pulse+IT's request for a copy of the report from the Royle review into the PCEHR, lodged under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The review, conducted by UnitingCare's Richard Royle, AMA president Steve Hambleton and Australia Post's Andrew Walduck, was established in early November and the panel's report was handed to Health Minister Peter Dutton on December 20.

The Department of Health also received a copy of the report at some stage in the new year, according to evidence given by DoH secretary Jane Halton at a Senate Estimates hearing in late February.

Pulse+IT, along with a number of other news services, lodged an FOI request for a copy of the report in mid-February. The Australian newspaper had its FOI request denied a fortnight ago.

Linda Jackson, assistant secretary of the eHealth policy branch within DoH's eHealth division, gave as her reason for refusing the request section 47C of the act, which concerns conditional exemptions for documents that are part of an agency, minister or the government's deliberative processes.

“The report addresses issues dealing with implementation and uptake of the PCEHR and includes analysis of those issues together with recommendations,” she wrote. “The recommendations are presently under consideration.

“Having regard to the content of the report there is no doubt that disclosure of it, or any part of it, would disclose deliberative matter within the meaning of section 47C(1) of the FOI Act.”

She said that as Section 47C is a conditional exemption, she considered whether it would be contrary to the public interest to grant access to the report.

“The public interest relates to the interests of the public as a whole and not to an interest particular individuals or sections of the community may have. In this respect, I note that there are likely to be individuals and groups who have an interest in electronic health issues generally and a particular interest in the contents of the report. There will be many who are simply curious to know what is in the report.”

She said she had taken those legitimate levels of interest into account, along with the objective of the FOI Act to increase public participation and scrutiny of government processes and the government's activities, but decided that if the contents of the review were to be made public now, the matter “would be prematurely exposed to scrutiny which would undermine the integrity of the decision-making processes of government”.

“I have decided that, on balance, disclosure of the report would be contrary to the public interest. The importance of ensuring the report's contents can continue to be considered within the confines of confidentiality to the Minister and to those public officials who have a need to know its contents is considerable.”

She said this outweighed the countervailing public interest in giving individuals and interest groups access to the document.

Pulse+IT is considering whether to appeal the decision.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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