Watson and Department of Health

Application number:
2004 F0209
Decision date:
Thursday, Jun 23, 2005
(2005) 7 QAR 66

Watson and West Moreton Health Service District (Department of Health)
(2004 F0209, 23 June 2005)

The applicant, a professional historian, sought access to the medical records of the applicant's deceased mother to assist in a research project on the Barjai Arts group and Brisbane's New Theatre, of which the deceased was a founding member.  The West Moreton Health Service District (WMHSD) claimed the medical records were exempt under s.44(1) of the FOI Act.  During the course of the external review, the applicant narrowed the scope of her application to concern only information related to dates and periods of admission and leave, and information regarding diagnoses, such as discharge summaries and medical recommendations.  The applicant's siblings, as the deceased's other closest living relatives, supported the disclosure of the medical records to the applicant. 

Applying Stewart and Department of Transport (1993) 1 QAR 227, I found that the information contained in the medical records fell within the core meaning of "personal affairs" and that it concerned the personal affairs of persons other than the applicant.  In relation to the public interest considerations against disclosure regarding the privacy of the deceased, I was of the view that the consent of the deceased's closest living relatives was of some weight in the application of the public interest balancing test. 

I found that there was a public interest in making available detailed historical and cultural research regarding the Barjai Arts group and Brisbane's New Theatre.  I was satisfied that the remaining documents to which the applicant sought access (with one exception) would assist the applicant in documenting the deceased's withdrawal from active participation in the Brisbane Barjai Arts and New Theatre groups.  However, I was of the view that the information contained in one document (folio 1) was unrelated to the research project. 

I note that the applicant made a further submission that it was in the interest of her own health and well-being to obtain access to the deceased's medical records to gain a clear understanding of the deceased's health problem.  Applying Summers and Cairns District Health Service (1997) 3 QAR 479, however, I rejected the submission by the applicant that such an interest could properly be characterised as a public interest consideration, as I was satisfied it was a personal interest of the applicant. 

On balance, I was satisfied that the public interest considerations favouring disclosure to the applicant of the medical records (with the exception of folio 1) outweighed the public interest in protecting the privacy of the deceased's medical records, the weight of which had been reduced by the consent of the deceased's closest living relatives.  I therefore set aside the decision under review (the deemed refusal of access by the WMHSD to the documents sought in the applicant's FOI access application dated 15 May 2002).  In substitution for it, I found that the matter in issue, with the exception of folio 1, was not exempt from disclosure to the applicant under s.44(1) of the FOI Act.