Plibersek rejects PCEHR blow-out claims

Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek has rejected claims in The Australian newspaper that the budget for the PCEHR had blown out by almost $200 million.

During a debate yesterday in which the PCEHR bill was passed unopposed by the House of Representatives, Ms Plibersek said the newspaper seemed to have double counted some of the sources of funding for the PCEHR and the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).

“The two main sources of funding for the eHealth agenda are the personally controlled electronic health records allocation and the COAG approved funding,” Ms Plibersek said.

“Both of these sources of funding are within budget. The personally controlled electronic health records allocation is $467 million over two years. This allocation goes towards the National E-Health Transition Authority, Medicare support, the 12 eHealth pilot sites and the national infrastructure partner – that is, not the National E-Health Transition Authority alone.

“The National E-Health Transition Authority also receives funding announced by COAG. Currently, that funding is $218 million over three years.”

Ms Plibersek said the federal government is contributing 50 per cent of the funding for NEHTA, equalling $109 million.

“The Commonwealth's portion of this funding is used for eHealth-related activities other than the personally controlled electronic health records system, such as healthcare identifiers, e-prescribing, standards and specifications, and the National Authentication Service for Health (NASH),” Ms Plibersek said.

“The $760 million figure cited in The Australian cannot be reconciled with either the personally controlled electronic health records system or the COAG funding allocations. It seems to have been reached by making significant errors in calculation, including the double counting of funds.

“They seem to have been simply added together and, in many cases, double counted.”

The legislation for the PCEHR will now go to the Senate, which is holding an inquiry into the bill. The Senate committee was to have handed down a report yesterday, but sought and was granted an extension until March 13.

Liberal MP Andrew Laming, the shadow parliamentary secretary for regional health services and indigenous health, said during the debate that while his party would not oppose the legislation, he was concerned that the lessons of the UK's well-publicised difficulties in created a shared health record – which he described as “potentially the greatest IT disaster the world has known” – were not being learned.

“In summing up this side of the debate on the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 and cognate bill, I just want to make the observation that this nation will have an electronic health record,” Mr Laming said. “It is going to happen.

“My grave concern is with the $72 million investment in wave 2 trials, because there is no guarantee that that money will feed into electronic health records. We are not learning lessons from overseas; we are actually just starting again with our own series of pilot trials.

“I have visited them. They are incredibly impressive but at $8 million to $12 million each, I want to know that having a few hundred people going through the Mater hospital program in Brisbane is actually going to lead to a more efficient information transmission system than we have currently.”

He also raised concerns that the clinical leads group that is providing the clinical oversight for the PCEHR had delayed a meeting for a second time.

“I do not come here to give you a shopping list of concerns,” he said. “I simply want reassurance that this government is not telling me it is all okay.

“Speaking as a clinician, I would love to have it working. Speaking as a clinician, I do not see why there cannot be better access to item numbers through both Medicare and PBS for public providers who are looking after the health of Australians.

“I emphasise that the support for the concept of an electronic health record is on both sides of the chamber, but I would love to see more concern about where the project is heading overall.

“It is large, it is complex and it is expensive and there is a graveyard of well-intended but ultimately misguided attempts to develop this record. It will take collaboration and it will take time. Start small, do it slowly and sequence it right and we may be able to go where other nations have failed.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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