What is Freedom of Information?
The Victorian Freedom of Information Act (“Act”) gives members of the public the right to request information held by Northern Health. The Act provides a right to:
Access documents relating to one’s personal affairs and the activities of Northern Health; and request that incorrect or misleading information held by Northern Health be amended or removed.
The Act outlines the process that Northern Health must follow when responding to requests for information. Northern Health have a Freedom Of Information Fact Sheet available.
North Western Mental Health provides a service to Northern Health. If you are a patient of the North Western Mental Health service you can also refer to their Freedom of Information site by clicking here.
What information is available?
The Freedom of Information Act allows members of the public to seek access to documents created by Northern Health in the conduct of its business. In the great majority of cases, Freedom of Information requests to Northern Health come from individuals seeking access to documents held within their medical record.
Northern Health uses a unit record system whereby all clinical information relating to a patient / client is kept in one medical record. Information kept within the record can include test results, doctor’s notes, drug charts, assessment forms and care plans. The Freedom of Information Act also provides for access to documents that are not in paper form. The word ‘documents’ covers a broad range of media including x-rays, photographs, audio tapes and computer print-outs.
What forms of access exist?
Northern Health provides access to the Medical Record, if approved via a CD.
With respect to paper documents, a person making a request must specify the type of access they seek. One is entitled to seek:
Black and white photocopies of requested documents; or an opportunity to inspect the documents in person under the supervision of a Northern Health representative.
With respect to documents such as x-rays and audio tapes, it is generally best to discuss with the Freedom of Information Officer the forms of access that are available.
Can someone make a request on behalf of another person?
It is possible for a carer, relative or legal representative to make a Freedom of Information request on behalf of another person. In such situations, the person to whom the information relates must sign an authority to permit release of the information.
If the person to whom the request relates is deceased, signed authority must be supplied from the deceased person’s senior available next of kin before documents can be released.
If the person to whom the request relates is a minor, signed authority must be obtained from both parents/ legal guardians. A Freedom of Information Request Form can be obtained from the Freedom of Information Officer at Northern Health. The form includes a section where one can authorise another to seek access to documents on their behalf.
The Freedom of Information Officer requires that photographic identification or certification be presented to validate the identity of the person making the request, (for example driver’s license, passport).
What are the associated costs?
The Freedom of Information Act prescribes that requests for access to documents be accompanied by a $28.90 application fee. Northern Health will waive the application fee for those in possession of a Pension or Healthcare Card if they provide a photocopy (front and back) of their card when making the request. Further processing charges may still apply.
The Freedom of Information (Access Charges) Regulations prescribe the costs to be charged by Northern Health for granting access to requested documents. With respect to providing copies of requested documents, the charge is 20 cents per black and white A4 page or $25 for a CD. Charges for photographs are $5.00 per photograph. With respect to supervising the inspection of documents, a charge of $5.00 per quarter hour applies.
In situations where access to documents is granted and the person making the request cannot personally collect the documents from Northern Health, a $10.00 plus weight charges will apply to forward the documents by registered post.
Making a request
The Freedom of Information Act prescribes that all requests for access to documents:
be in writing; clearly describe the documents being requested;
include a $29.60 application fee or evidence that one qualifies for a waiver of the application fee;
and photo ID be made to the agency holding the documents.
Northern Health has a Freedom Of Information application which can also be obtained from the Freedom of Information Officer. When completed, the form should include all of the information and details necessary for the request to be processed.
Request forms are to be submitted to:
The Freedom of Information Officer
C-/ The Northern Hospital
185 Cooper Street
Epping VIC 3076
Fax: 8405 8007
How long will it take for the request to be processed?
The Freedom of Information Act prescribes that Northern Health has 30 days (from first receiving a request) to ‘make a decision’ about granting access. In some cases, Northern Health may write to the applicant to request a extension of time, of up to additional 30 days when consultation is required with a Third Party. The Freedom of Information Officer will respond in writing within this timeframe to communicate whether access has been granted, and will advise of the applicable access charges (which must be paid before documents can be dispatched).
When Northern Health first receives requests for information, the Freedom of Information Officer will respond in writing to the person making the request, confirming that the request has been received.
Is access guaranteed?
In the majority of cases, requests for information are granted in full. Although if access has been denied, or partial access has been granted the Freedom of Information Act allows the applicant to seek a review of the decision with the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner.
Who can I contact for further information?
To speak to the Freedom of Information Officer at Northern Health, telephone (03) 8405 8258 during business hours. Or send a email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information relating to Freedom of Information, please visit the Office of Victorian Information Commissioner.