Summers and Cairns District Health Service (Deaprtment of Health); Hintz (Third Party)
(1995 S0197, 27 March 1997)
The applicant sought access to medical records of her deceased adult daughter, in respect of admissions to hospital prior to the admission during which her daughter died. The daughter's husband objected to the records in issue being disclosed to the applicant. The Information Commissioner found that the matter in issue concerned the daughter's personal affairs under s.44(1), and that disclosure would not, on balance, be in the public interest.
The Information Commissioner stated that the public interest in respecting the privacy of an individual's medical records is ordinarily a strong one. In paragraph 19 of the Information Commissioner's reasons for decision, the Information Commissioner commented on circumstances in which the weight of that privacy interest might be diminished.
The Information Commissioner accepted that there is a legitimate public interest in enhancing the accountability of public hospitals for the provision of medical services in accordance with proper professional standards, and for timely and cost-effective service delivery. However, when one attempts to apply that public interest as a consideration favouring disclosure of the medical records of a particular individual (other than the applicant for access), there is an immediate collision with the public interest in protecting the privacy and confidentiality of an individual's medical records. The Information Commissioner expressed the view that the former would not ordinarily outweigh the latter, unless there was a particularly strong public interest in accountability to be served by disclosure, for example, by exposing unsatisfactory or negligent performance, and enabling remedial and/or compensatory action to be taken.