On January 29, the federal court granted the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) access to confidential medical files held by the largest medical clinic servicing remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory — breaking doctor-patient confidentiality.
The ACC has sought access to the files of eight Aboriginal women who are believed to be sexually active, but are under the legal age of consent.
In February 2008, the ACC asked 20 such clinics to hand over medical files to find instances of child sexual abuse and threatened five-year jail terms to those who didn't comply. Only one clinic, which for legal reasons can only be called NTD8, refused.
An NTD8 nurses' affidavit said there was "no evidence of suspicion of abuse".
The November 4 Age said the ACC saw all forms of sexual activity by minors, including consensual sex, as criminal acts and sexual abuse. Of the eight women, seven had contraceptive implants and one had been pregnant while under eighteen.
Doctors are concerned the breach of privacy and subsequent investigations will discourage minors from seeking medical services from the clinic — dramatically worsening health outcomes.
The president of the NT branch of the Australian Medical Association, Paul Bauert, told the Age that it would send the wrong message to adolescents seeking advice, as doctor-patient confidentiality was lost.
"Instead of trying to get on top of the problem of sexual abuse, it may well be contributing to sexual abuse, as people become more reluctant to access health services."