Commenting on health care

You have the right to provide feedback on and complain about any aspect of your health care, and to receive a prompt response.

This section describes the importance of both positive and negative feedback. It outlines the different ways you can give feedback or make a complaint. This information is relevant whether you are treated in a public or private hospital or treatment centre, or if you see a practitioner in a private clinic.

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Importance of feedback

Your feedback allows you to be a part of improving health care by reinforcing what is being done well and highlighting what can be improved.

You can provide feedback in the following ways:

  • Compliments – Everyone likes a compliment when a job is done well. Positive comments show health professionals that you value their service and standard of care.
  • Suggestions – General feedback allows minor problems or inefficiencies to be addressed to make things smoother for patients. Often health professionals are so busy treating people that they overlook practical issues that are easy to solve and can improve your experience of treatment.
  • Complaints – Negative feedback is important if health care services have not met your expectations. It helps services and health professionals to identify and improve service gaps or problems in treatment, communication and behaviour.
Read more about the importance of feedback

How to give feedback or complain

All health care facilities should have procedures for patients to provide feedback. Check with the nursing unit manager, cancer care coordinator, social worker, patient representative or patient advocate.

Raising the issue may mean you get a different perspective on why something occurred, and talking about it may make you feel better. 

Health professionals are bound by a strict code of conduct to maintain confidentiality about any complaints you lodge.

If you feel unable to provide feedback or complain immediately, you can still raise your concerns at a later date. However, the ombudsman may not assess complaints after a certain time frame, and there are strict time limits for medical negligence complaints.

Steps for making a complaint

  • Talk to your specialist, a nurse or another health professional so they have the chance to resolve the issue immediately. You can also have another person, such as a friend or a relative, raise an issue on your behalf.
  • If your complaint is about a particular person and you don’t want to talk to them directly – or you have spoken to them and the issue remains unsolved – speak to the cancer care coordinator, nursing unit manager or social worker at your hospital or treatment centre.
  • You may prefer to write a letter, for example, if you find it difficult to discuss your concerns or feel the issue has been ignored after raising it in person. Remember that putting feedback in writing means you will have to wait for a response.
  • If you’re not happy with the response from a health professional, or if you want to talk to a neutral party, contact the hospital’s independent patient representative, complaints officer or patient advocate.
  • If you’re not satisfied with the patient representative’s investigation, you can elevate your complaint to the hospital’s quality assurance department, or to the clinical governance unit of your area health service. As smaller or private hospitals may not have a patient representative or a quality assurance department, you can contact the nursing unit manager or general manager.
  • If you’re still not happy with the outcome – or if you don’t want to raise the issue with the health care facility concerned – contact your state or territory’s health ombudsman.
  • If you have a serious complaint that you want to take to the health ombudsman or complaints commission, you may wish to obtain independent legal advice.
Read more about how to give feedback or complain

Health ombudsman

To make a formal complaint, you need to contact your state or territory health ombudsman or relevant complaints commission.

If you are unable to make the complaint yourself, then a relative, friend, guardian or health professional may be able to lodge the complaint on your behalf.

  • Complaints should be made in writing and can often be made via an online form.
  • In most cases, you will be assigned a case officer, who may provide a copy of the complaint to the health care provider and ask them to give their version of events.
  • Your case officer may also obtain your medical records or other relevant information from the health care provider, with your consent.
  • Once the case officer has completed their assessment, the ombudsman or commissioner decides how to manage your complaint. They may decide to refer it to mediation or conciliation, which is when the parties meet to try to agree to a resolution. Public health and safety issues are referred elsewhere within the ombudsman or commission’s office for formal investigation.

Serious cases against a practitioner may result in prosecution, and some cases can be referred to a registration board or another organisation.

State/territory

Ombudsman or commission

Australian Capital Territory

ACT Human Rights Commission

02 6205 2222

hrc.act.gov.au

New South Wales

Health Care Complaints Commission

1800 043 159

hccc.nsw.gov.au

Northern Territory

Health and Community Services Complaints Commission

1800 004 474

hcscc.nt.gov.au

Queensland

Office of the Health Ombudsman

133 646

oho.qld.gov.au

South Australia

Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner

08 8226 8666 or 1800 232 007 (toll-free country SA)

hcscc.sa.gov.au

Tasmania

Health Complaints Commissioner Tasmania

1800 001 170

www.healthcomplaints.tas.gov.au

Victoria

Office of the Health Services Commissioner

1300 582 113

health.vic.gov.au/hsc

Western Australia

Health and Disability Services Complaints Office

08 6551 7600 or 1800 813 583 (country WA free call)

hadsco.wa.gov.au

Read more about the health ombudsman

Registration boards

The health professionals are required to be registered and accredited nationally through professional registration boards.

These boards are responsible for ensuring that only trained and competent health professionals practise in their profession. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) oversees the work of the registration boards – see ahpra.gov.au.

All registration boards have a process for handling complaints. If you have an unresolved problem with a registered health professional, you should contact the relevant registration board.

Health professionals that need to be registered

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners
  • Chinese medicine practitioners
  • Chiropractors
  • Dentists
  • GPs and specialists
  • Nurses
  • Occupational therapists
  • Optometrists
  • Osteopaths
  • Pharmacists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Podiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Radiation practitioners

Unregistered health practitioners

Allied and complementary health professions may be self-regulated. This means practitioners are not legally required to be registered, but they can choose to join a professional association that sets education and practice standards. These practitioners may be called ‘accredited’.

If you have an issue with an unregistered practitioner, talk to them first.

If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, you can lodge a complaint with their professional association (if they are a member), or with the health ombudsman or complaints commission.

Read more about registration boards

Medical negligence

Health professionals have a duty to treat patients with reasonable care and skill. If you receive an injury caused by inadequate treatment or care, you may be able to claim compensation (medical negligence claim).

Inadequate treatment may include:

  • failure to diagnose or treat promptly
  • failure to advise you of risks of procedures, or injury as a result of treatment.

Medical negligence claims about cancer diagnosis and care are uncommon.

Is there a time limit to lodging a complaint?

In most states and territories, the time limit for lodging a complaint is three years from the date the injury occurred.

How do you prove negligence?

You may have to attend court, and the process can be expensive.

How do I make a medical negligence claim?

Contact the Law Society or Institute in your state or territory to find a lawyer who specialises in medical negligence.


Advocacy

Advocacy means speaking out on behalf of others to achieve positive change.

Cancer advocates lobby the government and key organisations to convince them to reduce cancer risks and improve services.

For more information about advocacy, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit cancervoicesaustralia.org.


This information was last reviewed in April 2016
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