Commenting on your care

Friday 1 April, 2016

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On this page: Importance of feedback | How to give feedback or complain | Health ombudsman | Registration boards | Medical negligence | Advocacy | Key points


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.

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.

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. You can also have another person, such as a friend or a relative, raise an issue on your behalf.

If you have a problem with a particular person, it is often best to talk to them face-to-face or on the phone, as this makes it easier for the situation to be addressed immediately. A quick conversation may help to resolve a simple misunderstanding.

However, 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.

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 (see medical negligence).

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.
  • 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 unresolved – speak to the cancer care coordinator, nursing unit manager or social worker at your hospital or treatment centre.
  • 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 (see below).
  • 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.

Health ombudsman

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

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 – see information about registration boards.

State/territory Ombudsman or commission
Australian Capital Territory ACT Human Rights Commission
02 6205 2222
New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission
1800 043 159
Northern Territory
Health and Community Services Complaints Commission
1800 004 474
Queensland Office of the Health Ombudsman
133 646
South Australia Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner
08 8226 8666 or 1800 232 007 (toll-free country SA)
Tasmania
Health Complaints Commissioner Tasmania
1800 001 170
Victoria
Office of the Health Services Commissioner
1300 582 113
Western Australia
Health and Disability Services Complaints Office
08 6551 7600 or 1800 813 583 (country WA free call)

Registration boards

The health professionals listed in the table below 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.

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.

Registered health professionals
  • 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.

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.

In most states and territories, the time limit for lodging a complaint is three years from the date the injury occurred. Proving negligence can be difficult – you may have to attend court, and the process can be expensive. If you think you may have a 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.

Key points

  • You have the right to comment on or complain about any aspect of your health care and to receive a prompt response. Patient feedback helps to improve health care by reinforcing what is being done well and highlighting what can be improved.
  • 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.
  • If your issue is with a particular health professional, it is usually best to talk to them face-to-face or on the phone, especially if there has been a simple misunderstanding.
  • Health care providers are bound by a strict code of conduct to maintain confidentiality regarding any complaints.
  • You can complain to your state or territory health ombudsman or complaints commission.
  • Many health professionals are required to be registered and accredited nationally through professional registration boards. Allied and complementary health care providers may be self-regulated.
  • Health professionals have a duty to treat patients with reasonable care and skill. If you experience an injury caused by inadequate treatment or care, you may be able to claim compensation (medical negligence claim).
  • Advocacy means speaking out on behalf of others to achieve positive change. People may try to make changes by advocating to key organisations and governments.

Reviewers:Therese Burke, General Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Toni Ashmore, Manager, Cancer Psychosocial Service, ACT Health, ACT; Art Beavis, Consumer; Marina Kastelan, Neuro-Oncology Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal North Shore and North Shore Private Hospitals, NSW; Dr Deborah Lawson, Legal Policy Advisor, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria and Union for International Cancer Control, VIC; Sarah Penman, Legal and Financial Support Services Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Jeanne Potts, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sharnie Rolfe, Consumer; Helen Tayler, Social Worker/Counsellor, Cancer Counselling Service, Belconnen Community Health Centre, ACT. We would also like to thank the health professionals and consumers who worked on previous editions of this title, as well as the original writers: Louisa Fitz-Gerald, Jenny Mothoneos, Vivienne O’Callaghan, Marge Overs and Laura Wuellner.