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Cancer care and your rights


Health care complaints

You have the right to provide feedback on and complain about any aspect of your health care, and to receive a prompt response. Health services are also expected to acknowledge patient harm, and disclose if anything has gone wrong during a patient's care.

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 - Positive comments show health professionals that you value their service and standard of care.

  • Suggestions - General feedback allows minor problems to be dealt with to improve patients' treatment experience.

  • Complaints - If health professionals and services have not met your expectations, negative feedback can help them improve service gaps or problems in treatment, communication, processes 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 have concerns about your health fund and have been unable to resolve these issues with the fund, the Commonwealth Ombudsman looks after private health insurance complaints and may be able to help.

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 resolving a health care issue
  1. Identify the problem and what you would like to happen to resolve it.
  2. Talk to your specialist, a nurse or another health professional so they have the chance to resolve the issue immediately.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Making a formal complaint

To make a formal complaint, you need to contact your state or territory health ombudsman or relevant complaints commission (see list below). It can be helpful to check if there are any time limits or other conditions you have to meet before making a complaint.

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 will write to tell you how they will 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.

Serious issues

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 7117 9313 or 1800 232 007
Tasmania Health Complaints Commissioner Tasmania
1800 001 170
Victoria Health Complaints Commissioner
1300 582 113
Western Australia Health and Disability Services Complaints Office
08 6551 7600 or 1800 813 583

Regulation of health professionals

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
  • Dental practitioners
  • GPs and specialists
  • Medical radiation practitioners
  • Nurses and midwives
  • Occupational therapists
  • Optometrists
  • Osteopaths
  • Paramedics
  • Pharmacists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Podiatrists
  • Psychologists

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.

Key points

 

  • Patient feedback helps to improve health care.
  • You have the right to comment on or complain about any aspect of your health care and to receive a prompt response. 

 

  • 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.
  • If you're not happy with the response, check with your health service about their procedures for patients to provide feedback.
  • 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.
  • Unregistered health practitioners are not legally required to be registered with a National Board but must follow the National Code of Conduct for health care workers. They may choose to join a professional association.

 

  • 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).

 

Cancer Care and Your Rights

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Expert content reviewers:

Prof Sarah Lewis, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Gastro-Intestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Johanna Jordaan, Consumer; Dr Deme Karikios, Medical Oncologist, Nepean Cancer and Wellness Centre, Nepean Hospital, NSW; Melissa Lawrie, Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Jacqueline Lesage, Consumer Reviewer, Cancer Voices NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Louise Pellerade, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Andrew Potter, Consumer; Siân Slade, PhD Candidate, Nossal Institute for Global Health and Non-Executive Director (health, disability sectors), VIC; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.

Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Cancer Care and Your Rights (2023 edition). This webpage was last updated in July 2023. 

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