Section 47(3)(b) and 49 of the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld)
Schedule 4 RTI Act public interest factors - part 2 item 9 - part 3 items 3 and 5 - part 4 item 6
The applicant applied to the Department of Health (QH) for a copy of her late husband’s medical records. QH refused the applicant access to the medical records under section 47(3)(b) of the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act) on the basis that disclosure would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest under section 49 of the RTI Act.
In considering the public interest in protecting the deceased’s right to privacy, the Right to Information Commissioner acknowledged that an individual’s medical records contain personal information that is sensitive in nature and there is a public interest in protecting an individual’s right to privacy by not disclosing their medical records under the RTI Act. However, in accordance with the principles in Summers and Department of Health; Hintz (Third Party) (1997) 3 QAR 479 the privacy interest of the relevant individual may be reduced in certain circumstances.
The Right to Information Commissioner found that, in this case:
· the information in issue disclosed that the applicant was closely involved in the admission and treatment of her late husband, had knowledge of the incident and a close relationship with the deceased
· some of the information in issue was about the applicant or was provided by the applicant to QH and the applicant was an eligible family member of the deceased
· the privacy interest attaching to the deceased’s medical records was significantly reduced.
In considering the public interest in the accountability of QH, the Right to Information Commissioner recognised that there is a broad public interest in the accountability of public hospitals for the provision of public sector health services. In some cases, it may be in the public interest for close relatives of patients to be provided with adequate information to allow them to assess whether the standard of care and treatment provided to their family member was appropriate in the circumstances (Keogh and Department of Health, Unreported, Queensland Information Commissioner, 31 August 2010).
In this case, the Right to Information Commissioner found that disclosure of the information in issue could reasonably be expected to assist the applicant in assessing whether the standard of care provided to her late husband was appropriate in the circumstances.
In balancing the relevant public interest factors, the Right to Information Commissioner was satisfied that:
· the public interest in protecting the deceased’s privacy was reduced to such an extent that it did not justify nondisclosure of the information in issue to the applicant; and
· the public interest in the accountability of public hospitals should be afforded moderate weight in the circumstances of this case.
The Right to Information Commissioner set aside the decision of QH refusing access to the information in issue and decided that disclosure would not, on balance, be contrary to the public interest.