Council Of Official Visitors Access To Personal Records, Mental Health Act 1996
Responsibilities of the Chief Psychiatrist for psychiatric care
The Mental Health Act 1996 (MHA) states that:
The Chief Psychiatrist has responsibility for the medical care and welfare of all involuntary patients (section 9 (1))
In respect of other patients, the Chief Psychiatrist is required to monitor the standards of psychiatric care provided throughout the State (section 9 (2))
Role of Official Visitors
Part 9 of the MHA states that an Official Visitor (OV) or a panel appointed by the Council of Official Visitors (COV) may, whether or not notice has been given, visit a place where any ‘affected person’ (an involuntary patient, a mentally impaired accused person who is in an Authorised Hospital or a person who is socially dependant because of mental illness and who resides, and is cared for or treated, at a licensed private psychiatric hostel) is detained, cared for, or treated.
In the course of the visit the OV or any person on the panel may:
- inspect any part of the place;
- see any affected person at the place who has not declined to be seen;
- make enquiries relating to the admission, detention, care, treatment, or control, of affected persons;
(d) subject to the affected person’s right to decline inspect:
- any medical record or other document or any thing relating to an affected person; or
- any other record or document required by this Act to be kept at the place.
An affected person has the right to decline to be seen by an OV or any person on the panel, and the right to deny an OV or any person on the panel access to the person’s medical records.
Access to a patient’s medical records
Although an OV may inspect an affected persons medical records, the affected person (patient) has the right to decline access to those medical records.
The power given by s.(4) to inspect medical records may be exercised only where the patient concerned has been given the opportunity to consider whether to grant or deny access to the person’s medical records. A person cannot be said to have a “right” to deny access to medical records if the person has not been given the opportunity to make that decision.
Process for seeking access
The seeking of permission from the affected person for an OV to have access to his or her medical record is a task for the staff of the mental health service. This places a responsibility on the staff of the mental health service to speak to the affected person and inform them of the request from the OV and their right to decline that request. Providing to the affected person an information brochure outlining the role of the COV could be helpful to the person in making their decision.
To assist the affected person in their decision-making it may also be necessary to seek information, either written or verbal, from the OV as to the reason for the access to the medical record. This will enable the affected person to be fully informed as to why the request is being made. If necessary, the affected person should be given time to consider their decision. The decision of the affected person should be documented in the person’s medical record.
More information about COV access to medical records can be found in the
Clinicians Guide to the Mental Health Act 1996 (Fourth Edition), available on theChief Psychiatrist’s website:www.chiefpsychiatrist.health.wa.gov.au or a copy maybe obtained by contacting the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist on 9222 4462. Dr Rowan Davidson is the Chief Psychiatrist.
Dr Peter Flett
DIRECTOR GENERAL OF HEALTH
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH