The Courier Mail and Department of Health (220051)

Application number:
The Courier Mail
Department of Health
Decision date:
Tuesday, Feb 22, 2011

(220051, 22 February 2011)

Section 48 Exempt information

Schedule 3 section 10(1)(i) Law enforcement or public safety information

Section 49 Contrary to public interest

The applicant applied to the Department of Health, also known as Queensland Health (QH), for access to documents relating to emergency departments for specified periods that:

(i) reviewed in-unit deaths;

(ii) reviewed pregnancy miscarriages; and

(iii) showed investigations into performance relating to patients in the triage category of resuscitation who were not seen immediately.

Following discussions with QH, the applicant reduced the scope of the application by:

· limiting the application to particular hospitals across a reduced time period; and

· clarifying that it did not seek access to identifying information in the documents.

The applicant also confirmed it did not seek access to patient identifying information in the documents.

In its decision dated 5 November 2009 (Decision), QH refused access to all the documents that were identified on the basis that:

· the information was exempt as its disclosure could reasonably be expected to prejudice a system or procedure for the protection of persons, property or the environment; and

· disclosure of the information would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest.

The applicant sought external review of the Decision.

On external review, QH submitted that disclosing any information in the documents would prejudice the confidentiality of the process for reviewing deaths (Death Review Process) and reduce the willingness of clinicians to participate meaningfully in the process. QH also raised concerns about the disclosure of personal and private information of patients, families, associates and clinicians contained in the documents.

During the review the applicant advised the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) that it:

· had, through earlier applications, obtained some information from QH relating to items (ii) and (iii) of the access application; and

· did not wish OIC to request QH to conduct any further searches for additional documents relating to the review.

The applicant also confirmed it was not seeking access to the personal details of patients or their families and associates nor to information that would identify medical staff. The applicant agreed that such information was not in issue in the external review.

Following consideration of the information in issue, the requirements of schedule 3 section 10(1)(i) and submissions, Right to Information Commissioner Smith (RTIC Smith) decided that:

· QH’s Death Review Process is a system or procedure for the protection of persons for the purpose of schedule 3, section 10(1)(i) of the RTI Act; and

· disclosure of the Information in Issue could not reasonably be expected to prejudice QH’s Death Review Process.

In finding it was not reasonable to expect disclosure to cause prejudice to the system or procedure it was relevant that:

· any understanding of confidentiality on the part of clinicians was not supported by the standards, policies and legislation under which the Death Review Process operated

· the Death Review Process was mandatory so clinicians were required to participate in it; and

· the information in issue did not identify medical staff and so clinicians would not cease to participate on the basis that they were personally under scrutiny.

RTIC Smith also considered whether disclosure would on balance be contrary to the public interest under section 49 and decided that:

· public interest considerations favouring nondisclosure based on privacy, disclosing the personal information of deceased patients and medical staff and confidentiality did not arise

· the public interest harm arising from the disclosure of routine personal work information of non-medical QH staff was negligible; and

· the significant public interest in promoting open discussion of public affairs, enhancing the Government’s accountability and contributing to positive and informed debate on important issues favoured disclosure.

Accordingly, RTIC Smith decided that the information in issue should be disclosed to the applicant as it was not exempt information and its disclosure would not, on balance, be contrary to the public interest.