There are two formal ways to lodge a complaint about health practitioners or healthcare services in Victoria. A complaint may be lodged with the:
- Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner (‘HC Commissioner’); or
- Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra);
(see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter). These processes are described below.
For a designated public sector mental health Formal delivery of legal documents to a person to tell them there are court proceedings against them which they must defend, or to make sure a witness in a case knows when they have to go to court to give evidence., complaints may be lodged with the Victorian Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (www.mhcc.vic.gov.au). (See also Chapter 8.4: Mental illness.)
Most public hospitals have complaints liaison officers who can help resolve a complaint. If a person is not satisfied with a health service they received, the HC Commissioner asks the person to raise their concerns with the organisation directly, before lodging a complaint with the HC Commissioner. Speaking directly with the health service provider is often the quickest and easiest way to resolve complaints. If the person remains dissatisfied, then the HC Commissioner may deal with the complaints, as set out below.
Where there has been a significant problem with management of a health service, a complaint may be made to the Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services (see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter).
Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner
The HC Commissioner is an independent and impartial Found in a statute of delegated legislation. For example, a statutory authority or body is aperson or organisation that has special powers given by parliament to do work for the public benefit. body that began operation on 1 February 2017 under the Health Complaints A written law made by parliament. Also called an ‘Act of parliament’, ‘statute’ or legislation. 2016 (Vic) (‘HC Act’).
The HC Commissioner supports safe and ethical health care in Victoria by:
- resolving complaints about health services and the handling of health information in Victoria;
- investigating providers who pose a serious risk to the health, safety or welfare of the public;
- monitoring and reviewing trends in complaints data;
- providing an accessible service that is a free alternative to legal proceedings; and
- educating consumers and providers about their rights and responsibilities.
The definition of ‘health service’ in the HC Act is very broad and is defined as:
(a) an activity performed in relation to a person that is intended or claimed (expressly or otherwise) by the person or the provider of the service:
(i) to assess, predict, maintain or improve the person’s physical, mental or psychological health or status, or
(ii) to diagnose the person’s illness, injury or disability, or
(iii) to prevent or treat the person’s illness, injury or disability or suspected illness, injury or disability;
(b) a health-related disability, palliative care or aged-care service;
(c) a surgical or related service;
(d) the prescribing or dispensing of a drug or medicinal preparation;
(e) the prescribing or dispensing of an aid or piece of equipment for therapeutic use;
(f) health education services;
(g) therapeutic counselling and psychotherapeutic services;
(h) support services necessary to implement any services referred to in paragraphs (a) to (g);
(i) that are ancillary to any other services to which this definition applies, and
(ii) that affect or may affect persons who are receiving other services to which this definition applies;
(j) any other prescribed services.
The HC Act (sch 2) legislates a Code of Conduct for general health service providers (those that are not registered with Ahpra).
The HC Act establishes that health services should attempt to resolve matters in the first instance and that anyone can make a complaint to the HC Commissioner (e.g. a Under the Australian Consumer Law, a person who buys goods or services for less than $40 000 or for personal or home use., carer, or a third A person or organisation directly involved in a court case. Parties include the plaintiff or applicant, the defendant, and any third party added to the action, but not independent witnesses.). The HC Act contains a flexible approach to complaints handling and retains the strong The principle that private information told to a person must not be revealed to others. Some professionals must keep information confidential, for example doctor–patient and lawyer–client relationships. provisions for A form of alternative dispute resolution. The parties negotiate with the help of an independent person called a conciliator. The aim is to sort out the dispute by mutual agreement, rather than having a decision made by a court or tribunal. See also arbitration; mediation; negotiation.. The HC Commissioner can require a response from a health service provider; failure to provide a response may result in penalties.
A complaint can be made via telephone, the online complaint form, in writing, and in person.
For straightforward matters, a staff member at the Office of the Health Complaints Commissioner may telephone the health provider and ask the provider to respond directly to the A person who begins a criminal prosecution against another in the Magistrates’ Court, or formally starts an action in a court or tribunal or makes a complaint to a complaint-handling body. In a civil action they could also be referred to as a plaintiff or an applicant..
When a complaint falls within the The authority of a court or tribunal to hear matters brought before it, based on some factor such as area or law, amount of money claimed, or geographic area. of the HC Act, and needs to be acted on, the matter is assigned to a resolutions officer.
For more complex matters, a resolutions officer deals with the complaint through conciliation or other formal complaints resolution processes. These processes may involve meetings, requesting the complainant’s medical records, or obtaining an independent expert report.
An investigation may occur if the HC Commissioner reasonably believes that a complaint should be investigated and:
- the complaint is not suitable for a complaints resolution process; or
- the complaints resolution process has not been successful; or
- the health service provider, without a reasonable excuse, does not participate in the complaints resolution process; or
- there has been a contravention of the Code of Conduct.
The HC Commissioner has the The ability to understand and be held responsible by the law for your actions. It also refers to a person’s ability to understand and agree to something, such as to undergo medical treatment. Full legal capacity is reached at 18 years of age, when a child becomes an adult. to hold a The time and place at which a court or tribunal hears the parties argue their case and makes a decision. as part of an investigation and to conduct a commissioner-initiated investigation following consultation with the President of the HC Commissioner Advisory Council.
The HC Commissioner can make public health warning statements and general health service warning statements and can apply both interim and ongoing An order made by the Supreme Court of Victoria or the High Court of Australia prohibiting a body from acting outside its authority. See also jurisdiction; prerogative writ; ultra vires. orders for non-registered health workers. These orders are appealable to VCAT and there are significant penalties to both individuals and corporations for contravention of those orders.
Complaint Data Reviews gather information about the complaints received by the HC Commissioner and the HC Commissioner can make recommendations to health services about any trends identified by those reviews.
In accordance with the HC Act, the HC Commissioner has developed complaint-handling standards in consultation with health service providers, the public and other interested stakeholders.
There are 16 health professions that are regulated under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme. These professions are:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners;
- Chinese medicine practitioners;
- dental practitioners (including dentists, dental hygienists, dental prosthetists, dental therapists);
- medical practitioners;
- medical radiation practitioners;
- occupational therapists;
- podiatrists; and
There is a national board for each of the regulated professions. The primary role of the boards is to protect the public. They set standards and policies that all registered health practitioners must meet.
Ahpra supports the national boards in implementing the national scheme. Ahpra’s operations are governed by the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law in force in participating jurisdictions (e.g. Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Act 2009 (Vic)) and its regulations.
In addition, Ahpra:
- manages the registration of health practitioners and students around Australia;
- receives notifications from the public about the professional conduct, performance or health of registered health practitioners or the health of students;
- manages investigations into the professional conduct, performance or health of registered health practitioners (except in NSW where this is undertaken by the Health Professional Councils Authority and the Health Care Complaints Commission);
- publishes national registers of practitioners, so important information about the registration of individual health practitioners is available to the public;
- works with health complaints entities in each state and territory to ensure the appropriate organisation investigates community concerns about individual registered health practitioners;
- supports the national boards in the development of registration standards, codes and guidelines; and
- provides advice to the Ministerial Council about the administration of the national scheme.
For more information, contact Ahpra.
Under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Act 2009 (Vic), the HC Commissioner and Ahpra are required to consult each other when a matter related to either’s jurisdiction is received, to determine which organisation is best suited to manage the matter.