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Chapter 3 Section A: Overview: everyone’s health care rights

This Manual aims to help people with mental health conditions to find their way through the legal aspects of the mental health system in NSW, to understand their rights more generally and know where they can go to for help to protect those rights.

However, the treatment of a mental health condition should not be seen in isolation from the general health system.

More and more people these days are treated by their GP for depression and anxiety and are supported concerning their emotional difficulties arising from the usual stresses of life, grief and loss, and relationship issues. Some people may be referred by their GP to a psychologist or social worker through the MBS (Better Access) initiative.  Some people access private psychiatry or psychology services either at their own cost or with financial help through their private insurance policy or Medicare.

For these people, the rights and obligations that are relevant to the care and treatment they receive for a mental health condition and/or emotional difficulties are not found in the specific mental health laws, but in the general law applying to all health services, private, public and community-based.

All NSW citizens have rights (and, as is sometimes emphasised, also responsibilities) as recipients of health care.

Many aspects of the law do not make a distinction between mental health services and other health services.

To understand the law about mental illness in NSW, you need first to understand your rights as an adult user of health care services. This Chapter of the Manual focuses on these general rights that all users of health care services have in relation to health care in NSW.

For example, the law and practice about confidentiality of individual medical records and the law about privacy of a person’s health information apply equally to health information about treatment of a mental illness as to any other medical condition.

This part provides an overview of the following aspects of the rights and obligations of all users of health care and medical services in NSW:

3A.1: Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights

In July 2008, the Australian Health Ministers agreed to the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights.

Although there is not yet any way for a person to enforce the rights listed in the Charter if health care providers do not uphold them, the Charter is a first step to having an enforceable set of rights in the future.

The fact that the Charter has been agreed to by all governments in Australia—state, territory and Commonwealth—means that it is a useful starting point when trying to assert rights in the health care system.

The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights sets out the rights of all people in Australia to:

  • Access health care
  • Get health care that is safe and of high quality
  • Be shown respect, dignity and consideration when getting health care
  • Be informed about health care services, treatment, options and costs in a clear and open way
  • Be included in decisions and choices about their health care
  • Privacy and confidentiality of their personal information, and
  • Comment on the health care they receive and to have their concerns addressed.

Updated October 29, 2019