Health Minister Greg Hunt has vowed to continue his fight to introduce new digital health records after the Senate forced the government into an embarrassing backdown.
The Senate voted on Wednesday to force the government to extend the deadline for patients to opt out to January 31, 2019.
“Today the government worked with the Senate crossbench to extend the opt-out period for My Health Record,” Mr Hunt said.
“The opt-out period will be extended until January 31, 2019. However, it’s important to note that people can opt-out at any time.
“Labor’s plan to delay and derail the rollout of the My Health Record was blocked today. We thank the crossbench for not delaying this important policy change as Labor tried so desperately to do.”
His comments triggered a strong response from Labor
“You’re a liar, Minister,” opposition health spokesman Catherine King said.
“You could have extended the opt-out period any time you liked. You refused to do so for months, repeatedly insisting it wasn’t necessary.
“It took Labor’s legislative amendment to force your hand into a hurried compromise.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Digital Health Agency insisted the website was not in “meltdown”.
“The opt-out website and the My Health Record help line are both operational. We are experiencing high demand, which has slowed the system down, and some people have experienced difficulties opting out this morning. These issues have now been resolved,” a spokesman said.
“The agency anticipated higher call volumes and has increased the number of help line operators available to support callers.”
The new deadline gives about 17 million Australians more time to voluntarily opt out of having a national online health record, if they wish to do so.
Just over one million Australians have already chosen to opt out of My Health, including some Liberal MPs.
@MyHealthRec 4 times I've filled out your opt out form and got right to the end b4 your site crashes. Directs me to call and your number disconnects!!! Seriously. This is why I want to opt out. Total incompetence. #MyHealthRecord
— Chris Roberts (@CRoberts11_11) November 14, 2018
Anyone who does not actually choose not to be enrolled will be automatically included in the digital system, which is designed to allow medical professionals at different sites and practices to share a patient’s medical information.
My Health will include information such as prescriptions, allergies and medical summaries.
While the plan could prove life-saving in some circumstances, significant concerns have been raised over protecting patient privacy with the records to be held for 130 years.
In June, the Australian Privacy Foundation told The New Daily that the presence of digital security systems was no guarantee that private medical information will be completely safe.
“Recent cybersecurity breaches point to the privacy risks,” APF chair Bruce Baer Arnold said.
Those kinds of breaches could well occur with My Health records, too.”
However, the system does have the cautious backing of the Australian Medical Association.
“Though the Australian Medical Association supports My Health record and its benefits, many GPs are concerned there may be a current lack of public awareness about what it is and how it works,” AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said in June.
On Wednesday, Labor first tried to have the My Health opt-out period extended for 12 months.
That motion failed, but an attempt by One Nation for an extension until January 31 won Senate support.
Hearing reports of people having trouble opting out of #MyHealthRecord today as the website keeps crashing and the phones have a recorded message that they are too busy.
Government needs to extend the opt out period until parliament votes on amendments and public better informed
— Prof Kerryn Phelps AM (@drkerrynphelps) November 14, 2018
Earlier, the new independent MP for Wentworth, GP Kerryn Phelps, said patients would have no option but to opt out of My Health unless improvements were made.