Cancer Council Victoria welcomes new stronger Health Complaints Commissioner and new Code of Conduct for practitioners

Wednesday 4 May, 2016

Victorians will be better protected against unethical unregistered health service providers under new powers granted to the Health Complaints Commissioner, thanks to the Health Complaints Act 2016.

The Act establishes a new Code of Conduct for general health services (unregistered health providers) which prohibit a practitioner from:

  • making claims about curing cancer;
  • making unsubstantiated claims about being able to treat or alleviate the symptoms of cancer or other terminal illnesses;
  • financially exploiting clients.

Formerly known as the Health Services Commissioner, the Health Complaints Commissioner can now initiate their own investigations. The Commissioner can now:

  • place conditions on or prohibit practice by general health service providers where necessary to avoid serious risk to health, safety or welfare of a person or the public;
  • undertake follow-up investigations to assess compliance;
  • publish public health warnings when necessary to avoid serious risks to the health, safety and welfare of a person or the public.

Cancer Council Victoria first called for the introduction of a statutory code of conduct for unregistered practitioners providing or claiming to provide `health services' in 2014.

"Unscrupulous practitioners who have been banned in other states have up until now been able to provide services here in Victoria making unsubstantiated claims while misleading and exploiting clients financially. They won't be able to do that anymore," said Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper.

"We welcome the new bill which greatly strengthens the powers of the Health Complaints Commissioner."

Dr Deborah Lawson, legal policy advisor for the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, says "the Act allows third parties to make complaints about a service received or sought by another person. This is especially important because people who seek alternative health services often do not want to complain about the service they have received while those who care for them watched their loved ones being exploited and have been unable to make a complaint."

"The explicit prohibitions against making claims with respect to curing cancer will prevent the emotional and financial exploitation of cancer patients when they're at their most vulnerable," she said.

There are numerous examples of patients who seek alternative therapies and who have unsatisfactory experiences or are taken advantage of due to increased vulnerabilities, who generally do not want to pursue complaints against the providers of these services. Some of them may not aware of their rights to do so or they are too ill.

In one case, high dose vitamins, especially Vitamin C, are administered by a particular clinic to which a number of people come from interstate as a last ditch effort to prolong their lives. Many of these patients then deteroriate from the natural history of their disease. They then face the expense of interstate transport back home. The practitioners who encouraged their travel in the first place seemingly take no responsibility for any of this.

The Health Complaints Act 2016 brings Victoria into line with four other states.