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Catholic patients "denied access" to chaplains

Bishop Julian Porteous, rector of Sydney's Seminary of the Good Shepherd, has expressed concern that privacy safeguards are forcing hospitals and other medical institutions to deny chaplains access to members of their faith who are sick.

Bishop Porteous told the Catholic Weekly that confusion and ignorance prevail about the interpretation and effects of the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 (NSW) which seeks to protect the individual's right to privacy in Australia.

Previously, Catholic chaplains knew those patients in the hospital who needed prayers or a visit, and those they could refer to other community clergy who minister to the sick and the dying. Priests would be provided by hospital staff with a list of patients with their religious affiliations. But due to new privacy legislation, today, like travelling salesman, many have to make "cold calls" to fulfil their job.

Bishop Porteous, the liaison bishop to the Civil Chaplains Advisory Committee, says a change in the phrasing of the religious identity question in medical records is denying chaplains access to Catholic patients.

"The practice of asking patients their religion on admission has been changed to asking them if they want to see a minister of faith, which confuses people," Bishop Porteous said.

"People then end up not knowing if there is a Catholic chaplain in the hospital," he told Weekly.

Fr Harry Payne, chaplain at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at Camperdown, said many clergy in the archdiocese have been affected by the implementation of the ruling.

"I have a good relationship at the hospital but I know of a chaplain whose workload went from 150 patients a day to three, when the hospital adopted a new administration policy," he said. "In that period, an old person died in the intensive care unit and was denied spiritual support and the last rites.

"As chaplains it is very frustrating for us that some hospitals choose to misread the Health Department's regulations."

Catholic patients denied access to clergy (Catholic Weekly 28/11/04)

Editorial: Open access (Catholic Weekly 28/11/04)
Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 (LawLink)
Archdiocese of Sydney - Chaplains

26 Nov 2004