P and Brisbane South Regional Health Authority
(1993 S0140, 9 September 1994)
This case involved the application of s.46(1)(a) and (b), and principles set out in B and Brisbane North Regional Health Authority(1994) 1 QAR 279, in circumstances where third parties supplied information to medical staff to assist with the care of the applicant, a person regulated under the Mental Health Act 1974 Qld, and to assist with consideration of whether the applicant should be further regulated. The Information Commissioner found that the information provided by the third parties was exempt under both s.46(1)(a) and s.46(1)(b).
In respect of the third element of s.46(1)(b), the Information Commissioner held that there were real and substantial grounds for the expectation that disclosure of the matter in issue would prejudice the future supply of like information. It is frequently of assistance, and in some cases essential, for those involved in the care and treatment of a psychiatric patient to have access to a broad range of information, both clinical and non-clinical, concerning the patient. If those who are in a position to disclose such information become aware that the patient may obtain access under the FOI Act to the information they provide, it is reasonable to expect that many (whether motivated by concern for the patient’s well-being, concern to maintain a continuing relationship with the patient, or concern for their own welfare) would either refuse to give information, or give guarded or misleading information which would be of little use to health authorities in the care and treatment of patients.
With respect to the public interest balancing test which qualifies s.46(1)(b), the Information Commissioner held that s.6 of the FOI Act applied to assist the applicant because the matter in issue concerned the applicant’s personal affairs. There is a public interest in patients obtaining access to information concerning their medical treatment, but it is certainly not an unqualified one (see s.44(3) of the FOI Act which expressly recognises that there may be instances where disclosure to an applicant of information of a medical or psychiatric nature concerning the applicant would be prejudicial to the applicant’s physical or mental health or wellbeing). The Information Commissioner held that disclosure of the matter in issue would not have any beneficial or positive consequences for the applicant, and certainly none that would outweigh the detriment that would be occasioned to the third parties, nor the potential detriment to the future supply of like information. Accordingly, the public interest considerations favouring disclosure of the information in issue were not of sufficient weight to displace the public interest favouring non-disclosure which was inherent in the satisfaction of the test for prima facie exemption under s.46(1)(b).