Labor leader Bill Shorten has ramped up opposition to the My Health Record roll out, calling for the suspension of the national health database in the wake of a privacy backlash that shows no signs of abating.
Shorten claimed today that concerns need to be addressed before the major infrastructure project that has so far cost $2 billion continues on path that will see every Australian provided with a My Health Record unless they opt out by October 15.
According to the ABC, Shorten said the government’s recent track record in the management of technology projects concerned him.
"They've got the rollout of the NDIS wrong in many places and many of you, and many people beyond here, know that they've experienced complaints with that," Shorten said.
"The Minister [Michael McCormack], who is now Deputy Prime Minister, had one job with the census and they managed to get that wrong, didn't they?
"I actually think it would be smart of the government to suspend the roll out of the My Health Record system until all of the privacy concerns are actually addressed."
The news is a major set-back for the Australian Digital Health Agency, which has continued to defend the system in the face of strident criticism from a cavalcade of opponents, including data privacy advocates, cybersecurity experts, domestic violence campaigners, doctors and mental health groups.
[Read more: "Take a deep breath": Opposition calls for extension to My Health Record opt out period as Liberal MP withdraws from system | My Health Record identified data to be made available to third parties]
In one of the latest salvos, Vision Australia claimed blind and vision-impaired people cannot opt out online because the system is incompatible with screen-reading software and other adaptive technologies.
Yesterday, the agency’s CEO Tim Kelsey told Fairfax Media in rare media comments since the unfolding communications disaster began at the start of the opt out period that the debate over My Health Record was welcome.
"We welcome the debate. It's very important that people are aware of both the benefits of My Health Record and their rights, and exercise a choice," Kelsey said.
"That is the purpose of this process."
Shorten’s call for the roll out to be paused is a strengthening of Labor’s position from Monday when the Opposition called for an extension to the three-month opt out period and a comprehensive information campaign to educate the public about the national online health information platform.
“There has been significant and growing community concern about the My Health Record since the beginning of the opt out period on 16 July,” Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said in a statement.
“The government has failed to effectively communicate with the public about what the My Health Record is and the potential benefits it could bring. It has also failed to explain to people how their rights will be respected and their privacy protected.
“This approach has fuelled suspicion and scepticism, which could be why tens of thousands of people rushed to opt out in the first week.”
King said Labor supports digital health and the My Health Record but has concerns that the government’s implementation of the opt out process has “seriously undermined public trust in this important policy”.
Labor introduced an opt in version of My Health Record, while the Turnbull government has chosen to shift the system to opt out.
[Read more: Privacy Commissioner poised to release delayed data breach report but My Health Record adopts a different definition | Technical chaos and privacy backlash as My Health Record opt out period begins]
The news comes as president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Tony Bartone, who has been My Health Record’s most vocal advocate in the last two weeks, confirmed that he will meet with Health Minister Greg Hunt next week “to gain assurances that the government will take further steps to ensure the privacy and security of the My Health Record”.
Bartone said there had been a groundswell of concern from AMA members, the broader medical profession and the public about the 2012 legislation framing the My Health Record, which allows the disclosure of health information for law enforcement purposes.
According to the legislation, access to information contained within My Health Record can be gained by entities including police forces, local councils and even the RSPCA without a warrant in what the parliamentary library has described as a “significant reduction” in legal protections for private data.
“The priority of the AMA at all times has been to support the My Health Record and its precursors for the important clinical benefits it will deliver to doctors, patients, and the health system,” Bartone said in a statement following his address to the National Press Club today.
“The AMA has always been protective and vigilant about the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship and this should not be affected by the My Health Record.
“Given the public debate this week, I support calls for the government to provide solid guarantees about the long-term security of the privacy of the My Health Record.
“I told the National Press Club today that I will do whatever it takes to ensure that the security concerns are raised and cleared up as a matter of urgency.”
Bartone said Hunt had contacted him following the National Press Club event “to set up a meeting to discuss all aspects of the roll out of the My Health Record”.
Hunt and the ADHA have both claimed that in the six years My Health Record has been operating it has never received a request for access to medical records and the agency “will not release any documents without a court/coronial or similar order”.
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