Telstra Health Wins Multi-Million-Dollar Contract Over NFPs
26 May 2016 at 11:15 am
Telecommunications giant Telstra has been chosen over Not for Profits to be awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to manage a new National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) in a move some members of the public have called “privatisation by stealth”.
The contract, which has reportedly been allocated $178.3 million over five years, is expected to be announced by Health Minister Sussan Ley on Thursday.
The controversial move – which follows a public tender call which closed on 8 October 2015 – will see sensitive medical records placed under corporate management and signals an end to the current state-based registers for cervical cancer screening programs and the national bowel cancer screening register.
Previously the responsibility of compiling and maintaining the registers had fallen to state-based Not for Profit organisations, including the Victorian Cytology Service which was overlooked for the national contract in favour of Telstra, despite its experience in the field.
Fairfax Media has reported that Telstra Health has approached VCS for access to its expertise, staff, and other resources.
VCS Associate Professor Marion Saville said they were disappointed with the decision.
“We can confirm that VCS was shortlisted for the NCSR. We are of course very disappointed in the outcome of the tender process considering our longstanding expertise in operating successful cancer screening registers,” Saville said.
“As an organisation we will continue to work constructively towards the goal of protecting Australians from the impact of cancer through screening.
“We will be talking to the Victorian and Australian governments to ensure that we can continue our important contributions to Australia’s cancer screening programs.”
The new register – which will create a single record for each person participating in cervical and bowel cancer screening, digitise prompts and alerts to consumers and ensure patients are followed up – is expected to go live from May 2017 to coincide with the introduction of the new human papillomavirus (HPV) testing regime that will replace pap smears from May 2017.
Minister for Health Sussan Ley said it was part of the Coalition’s plan to ensure Australia remained a world-leader in cancer research, prevention and treatment.
“This national register will do everything from sending patients reminders they’re due to undergo cancer screening all the way through to ensuring their doctor knows the results, as well as helping researchers find the cures of tomorrow,” Ley said.
However concerns have been raised over privacy and security, with some patients worried that such ultra-personal information is going to be held by a large and potentially unresponsive corporation.
An article published by The Age attracted several comments from members of the public targeting Telstra’s customer service and suggested it is privatisation by stealth.
Tony from Adelaide said: “Once you give control of records to a private company, you also give control of who gets to view these documents. This is a no brainer. There is no way the government is going to stop with this. More and more records of different types will be added with subsequent contracts, until all medical records are under private control. Privatisation by stealth.”
Katystarlet said: “After a new phone plan? Let’s cross reference with your health status and check if you’ll live long enough to pay it off! Sensitive health information, if to be held by a private company, should not ever be given to a commercial company whose primary business is a profit making / retail one. No matter what the assurances that the two arms will remain separate, the potential of abuse is too tempting. You don’t need to be a soothsayer to know that one day we’ll be reading about leaks, mismanagement ,corruption or all three.”
Meanwhile commenter Paul D said: “I definitely want to see a system where all my doctors (I see eight regularly due to a number of chronic illnesses) have access to all my medical records. But in the hands of Telstra? No thank you.”
The peak body for public and Not for Profit hospitals, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) has also called on the federal government to provide more details about the reported plan to allow Telstra Health to manage the national cancer screening register from next year.
“Integrating the smaller registries into a single entity has the potential to greatly reduce inefficiencies and support one of the key objectives of Primary Health Networks, to increase cancer screening in their communities,” AHHA chief executive Alison Verhoeven said.
“However, governance issues surrounding the plan to allow Telstra Health to manage the data obtained through the screenings, as reported in the [the media] today, require further clarification.
“We call on the government to provide details about who the data owner and custodian will be, who will control access to the data and how much it will cost. There must also be clarification on what public reporting on the data will be done and on who will compile those reports,” she said.