It is often said that a practitioner should consider themselves very fortunate, rather than particularly skilled, if they go through their career without receiving a complaint of some sort. A complaint can be made to the practitioner directly, to the practice, to AHPRA or to the local health care complaints entity.
While this may sound deflating, data from AHPRA and the Health Complaints Entities indicates that most complaints are closed with no further action against the practitioner.
Unfortunately there is very little consistency in the management of complaints in the jurisdictions of Australia, with each having a slightly different procedure.
The Victorian complaints process has recently changed and provides a good example.
A new Health Complaints Act 2016 was introduced in Victoria and began operation on 1 February 2017.
Previously complaints were referred to the Health Services Commissioner but that entity has been replaced by the Health Complaints Commissioner. One of the prime reasons for the change was to provide a much broader definition of health service which captures a wider range of non-registered providers that the Health Services Commissioner was previously unable to deal with.
The new legislation includes a Code of Conduct for non-registered practitioners or those practising outside of their area of registration, which provides minimum standards for those practitioners.
One of the Commissioner’s new and important powers is to issue an interim and/or final prohibition order prohibiting a general health service from providing all or part of its service. Such an order could prohibit a health service provider from providing a service for a period of up to 12 weeks while an investigation takes place. Before making such an order, the Commissioner must believe on reasonable grounds that the provider has contravened a code of conduct, been convicted of an offence or that it is necessary in the interest of life, health, safety or welfare of the public to make such an order.
The new legislation also sets out a Complaint Handling Standard which all health providers must comply with. A copy of the Complaint Handling Standard which all practitioners in Victoria should become familiar with, can be found at http://www.hcc.vic.gov.au/healthcare-providers/handling-complaints.
This resource provides useful tips for health practitioners across the country for managing complaints.
The Health Complaints Commissioner will still work closely with AHPRA to identify the most appropriate body to investigate a complaint. Generally, any complaint regarding the professional competency of a medical practitioner will be referred to AHPRA for assessment and/or investigation.
If you are the subject of a complaint, it is very important to be proactive in managing it. Often that will mean contacting one of the solicitors in the Claims and Legal Services team to discuss the complaint and the best way to respond. This is part of our core business and we are here to help.
Our records show that every day we receive, from our clients notification of a complaint. Our team has extensive experience in assisting practitioners with complaints and are only too happy to assist.