Commenting on your care

Thursday 24 October, 2013

Download PDF Order FREE booklet

On this page: Importance of feedback ι How to give feedback or complain ι Health services commission ι Registration boards ι Medical negligence ι Advocacy ι Reviewers


You have the right to comment and complain on any aspect of your health care and to receive a prompt response. This page describes the importance of both positive and negative feedback. It outlines the different ways you can give feedback or make a complaint, whether you're treated in a public or private treatment centre or whether you see a practitioner in a private clinic.

Importance of feedback

Your feedback allows you to be part of improving health care by reinforcing what's being done well and highlighting what can be done better.

  • Compliments: Everyone likes a compliment when a job is done well. Positive comments show health care providers that you value their service and the standard of care.
  • Suggestions: General feedback allows minor problems or inefficiencies to be addressed to make things smoother for patients. Often health care providers are so busy treating people that they overlook practical issues that are easy to solve and can make your life a little easier.
  • Complaints: Negative feedback is important if health care services haven't met your expectations. It helps health care services and professionals 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 give feedback. Check with the nursing unit manager, 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 relative, raise an issue on your behalf.

It's often best to talk to the person concerned 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 in some cases, such as if you find it difficult to discuss your concerns or feel that the issue has been ignored after raising it in person.

If you put your feedback in writing, you'll have to wait for a response, but it's a more formal approach that allows your concerns to be recorded exactly.

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

"If I was a bit miffed about something, I would always ask why they were doing it that way. Sometimes there was a good reason, and there was no reason to be upset. That's how you learn." — Nina 

Steps for making a complaint

  • Talk to your specialist, nurse or other health care provider so they have the chance to resolve the issue immediately.
  • If you don't want to talk directly to the health care provider, or if they haven't been able to resolve your issue, see the care coordinator, nursing unit manager or social worker at your treatment centre.
  • If you're not happy with the response from a health care provider, or if you want to talk to a neutral party, contact the hospital's independent patient representative or complaints officer.
  • If you're not satisfied with the patient representative's investigation, contact the hospital's quality assurance department, or the clinical governance unit of your area health service.
  • If you're still not happy with the outcome - or if you don't want to raise the issue with the health care facility - contact your state or territory's health ombudsman (see below).
  • Smaller or private hospitals may not have a patient representative or a quality assurance department. In this case you can contact the nursing unit manager or general manager.
  • If you have a serious complaint that you want to take to the health ombudsman, you may also wish to get independent legal advice.

Timing issues

If you feel unable to give feedback or complain immediately, you can still raise your concerns months or even years later. However, the ombudsman may not assess complaints more than a certain number of years old. There are strict timeframes about making medical negligence complaints as well.

Health Services Commission

To make a complaint, you need to contact the Health Services Commissioner office on 1800 136 066. The Health Services Commissioner is an independent statutory authority established to receive and resolve complaints about health service providers. They also handle complaints about disclosure of and access to health information. Complaints should be in writing. The Health Services Commissioner offers a telephone advice line for help putting your complaint in writing. Call 1800 136 066.

The Health Services Commissioners office may provide a copy of the complaint to the health care provider and ask them to give their version of events. Medical records or other relevant information may also be obtained.

The Health Services Commissioner will send you a copy of the response from the health care provider and ask you to consider it. This may be enough to resolve the complaint for you. If so, the file will be closed. If your complaint remains unresolved, a decision will be made about what should happen next. This will depend on the circumstances of the case, what outcome you are seeking and what explanation the provider has given.

At the end of the assessment, your complaint may be managed through conciliation. Public health and safety issues are referred 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. 

Registration boards

Many health care professionals, such as medical doctors, nurses, psychologists, physiotherapists and Chinese medicine practitioners, are required to be registered and accredited nationally through professional registration boards.

Registration boards are responsible for ensuring that only trained and competent health care providers practise in their profession. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency oversees the work of the registration boards.

All registration boards have a process for handling complaints, and they may consult with the ombudsman about investigating serious issues. If you have an unresolved problem with a registered health care provider, you should contact the relevant registration board. This can be a lengthy process so it is a good idea to understand timeframes if you are considering this option.

Unregistered health practitioners

Allied health and complementary health professions may be self-regulated. This means practitioners aren't registered with the government, but they can choose to join a professional association, which sets education and practice standards.

If you have a problem with an unregistered practitioner, talk to them first. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, you can lodge a complaint with the practitioner’s professional association, if they have membership, or call your ombudsman. Some states and territories have a legal code of conduct for unregistered health
practitioners, which outlines ethical standards.

Medical negligence

Health professionals have a duty to treat patients with reasonable care and skill. If you suffer an injury caused by inadequate treatment or care, then 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 if you become injured as a result of treatment.

Claims about cancer diagnosis and care are uncommon. There are strict time limits on lodging claims – in most states and territories, the time limit is three years from the date the injury occurred – and the process can be expensive and time-consuming so it is important to understand costs and timeframes if you are considering this option. Proving a case can be difficult, and you may have to attend court. If you think you may have a claim, contact a lawyer who specialises in medical negligence as soon as possible. If you are experiencing financial difficulty and require legal advice, please call 13 11 20 and speak to a cancer nurse who can provide you with tailored information to assist in this area.

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. Cancer Council, Cancer Action Victoria and Cancer Voices Australia  focus on advocacy for people with cancer.


Reviewers: Sondra Davoren, Senior Legal Advisor, Cancer Council Victoria; Neil Brebner, Team Leader, Cancer Care Support Team, Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Angela Cotroneo, Acting Team Leader & Counsellor, Psycho Oncology Service, Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Louisa Fitz-Gerald, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Val Goodwin, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council QLD; Carol Hargreaves, Cancer Information Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Lahna Hosken, Helpline Consultant, Cancer Council QLD; Dan Kent, Consumer; Dr Deborah Lawson, Legal Policy Advisor, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Amy Parker, Helpline Consultant, Cancer Council QLD; and Sarah Penman, Pro Bono Case Manager, Cancer Council NSW.
Updated: 24 Oct, 2013