The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has joined the chorus of civil society groups in raising concern over threats to health care rights in Australia, as a result of current Government policies linked to free trade agreements.
This follows a second leak of draft text contained in the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), which is being negotiated in secret between 12 countries.
Under the TISA, participating countries, including Australia, will be forced to comply with the trade deal when establishing new services or if governments continue to privatise existing services.
General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, said various parts of the draft text leaked internationally earlier this week would alarm all Australians when it came to the credibility of future health care provision and the privacy of their medical data.
“If Australia proceeds with the TISA, new health care services could be sent offshore, leaving the Commonwealth and State governments unable to regulate health care providers,” Mr Holmes said.
“There would be no way of ensuring a person assigned to your health care team had the appropriate or equivalent qualifications.”
Analysis released by Professor Jane Kelsey from the University of Auckland highlights the example of x-rays potentially being interpreted and results reported on offshore by unqualified workers, under the TISA.
“Do we really want to go down the path of health care advice potentially being provided by someone who is not suitably qualified to do the job and not Australia-based?,” Mr Holmes said.
“Rural and regional parts of Australia are increasingly dependent on tele-health and the Government has a duty of care to ensure the integrity of these services as they improve into the future.”
Mr Holmes said another area of major concern in the leaked text was the issue of medical data retention and privacy.
Currently, Australia has requirements for health care information to be stored domestically under strict privacy laws, however, the leaked text suggests that under the TISA governments would not have the power to require companies to store medical data locally.
“This could result in a situation where a multinational company wins a tender to collect and store your private and confidential health care records and could then sell that information to a third-party without your knowledge or permission,” Mr Holmes said.
“Australian privacy laws would not apply and could not be enforced.
“It’s unclear why any government, let alone our Commonwealth government, would negotiate against our right to quality-assured health care and our right to privacy and confidentiality when it comes to health care.”
The NSWNMA has called on the Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb to come clean on what is being negotiated under the TISA and to explain why the Australian public should accept a situation where our rights are traded away in secret.
“We’re also calling on all political parties and Independents to clarify publicly whether they support the current Government negotiating away our privacy when it comes to health care,” Mr Holmes said.
The NSWNMA remains concerned that the leaked chapter reflects a position similar to that taken by the Abbott Government in other trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the China Free Trade Agreement.
“Mr Abbott has claimed the progress of these trade agreements as ‘a win’ for his government, but when it comes to future health care arrangements in Australia, it’s far from a positive policy position,” said Mr Holmes.