AMA President, Dr Bill Glasson, today urged the Government to scrap plans to introduce the Health Legislation Amendment (Parental Access To Information) Bill 2004 to Parliament next week.
The Bill would allow parents and guardians access to HIC information about children under 16 years of age [currently access is allowed for children under 14] – even if the children have their own Medicare cards.
Dr Glasson said the Government is putting cheap political point scoring ahead of the physical and mental health and well-being of many thousands of Australian teenagers.
The AMA understands that the ALP, the Greens and the Democrats will block the Bill in the Senate and the Government is well aware of this.
It is also common knowledge that there is serious unrest among Government members over the introduction of this divisive and damaging legislation.
“It is an election year and this Bill is wedge politics of the worst kind,” Dr Glasson said.
“The losers will be vulnerable and fragile teenagers and their families.
“It is irresponsible to use a so-called ‘family values’ agenda to propose legislation that would ultimately erode family values and security – all for political grandstanding.
“Raising the parental access age to 16 will cause many problems, not the least of which is seriously undermining the relationship between young people and their doctors – not to mention greater tension between parents and teenage children at a key stage of their physical and mental development.
“It is bad health policy. It is bad social policy.
“This Bill ignores the individuality of our young people. It ignores the fact that at this age they are starting to take control of their own bodies and their own lives.
“As young people move through their teens, their relationships with their families, their friends and their social networks change.
“They are confronted with new experiences and events – some joyful, some stressful. They face issues of mental health, self-esteem, self-awareness, body image and sexuality.
“Their social circles now contain health-compromising behaviours like eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, sexual relationships and unsafe sexual practices.
“While they are in transition form child to young adult, they can find themselves in a health services limbo.
“It is a time in their lives when they need to form trusting and confidential relationships with doctors – their own doctors.
“These kids do not have financial independence. They cannot drive a car. They are not confident in the process of accessing medical help and advice.
“As a community – parents, guardians, doctors and politicians – we must be doing all we can to help our kids find their way through the maze of personal health care. We should be encouraging them to establish relationships and processes that will ensure regular contact with doctors and other health professionals and counsellors and confidants.
“If our young people are comfortable about seeking medical care in their formative years, they will remain comfortable and confident throughout life.
“To be comfortable, they need confidentiality. The Government’s proposed legislation will remove that confidentiality and has the potential to cause irreparable harm. It must be stopped.
“The Government’s Bill is not just a political wedge. It has the potential to drive a wedge between caring parents and their maturing teenagers.
“The Government knows the Bill will not get through the Senate. They should scrap the proposed changes now and prevent a divisive community debate for crass political purposes,” Dr Glasson said.
Young people aged 14–16 are most often looking for health information and advice on:
- Family relationships
- Pressure at school – academic and social
- Physical development
- Social pressure
- Stress and pressure
- Depression and anxiety
- Eating disorders
- Safe sex and contraception
- Teenage pregnancy
Young people from all socio-economic backgrounds feel awkward discussing some of these issues with parents and may be afraid of the consequences if they somehow alarm or disappoint parents. While doctors encourage their young patients to talk to their parents, sometimes this is not initially a comfortable option and it’s essential that there is a safe alternative.
“If vulnerable 14 to 16 year-olds are not comfortable talking to their parents – and this Bill makes it difficult for them to seek confidential advice from doctors – the alternative sources of help and information do not bear thinking about,” Dr Glasson said.