19 Oct 2017

Annual report: increase in complaints to new office

The Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC) received 3,476 complaints in its first five months of operation, from opening on 1 February until 30 June 2017.

This represents an 80% increase in complaints from the same five-month period of the previous year (1,929), under the former Office of the Health Services Commissioner (OHSC).

The HCC Annual Report, tabled in parliament today, covers the first five months of the HCC as well as the last seven months of the OHSC.

New legislation created the HCC this year to replace the former OHSC and saw lawyer Karen Cusack become Victoria’s inaugural Health Complaints Commissioner.

“It has been a year of profound change in Victorian health complaints,” Ms Cusack said. “Continuing to deliver on best practice in complaint handling during this period of massive growth and organisational change has been a great achievement for which my staff deserve congratulations.”

Ms Cusack said the growth in complaints could partly be explained by publicity around the new office and improved visibility through poster and brochure campaigns at more than 1,000 hospital and medical clinic waiting rooms across the state.

“The number of complaints themselves is not necessarily a cause for concern. In many respects complaints support quality and safety by providing feedback,” she said.

The most common outcome achieved for health service complaints to the HCC were advice given by HCC staff (2,184), explanations obtained from health service providers (397) and refunds or compensation (85). An apology was provided in 69 cases and a health service was obtained as an outcome in another 69 complaints.

“Tailored advice on how to resolve complaints is a major part of the service provided by our new customer service team,” Ms Cusack said. ‘This typically involves coaching complainants on who to speak to about their complaint, what information to include and when to expect a response so that direct resolution with the health service provider can proceed as smoothly as possible.”

Of complaints that progressed past the customer service team to be handled by complaint resolution officers, 64% were resolved in less than 1 month, while 77% were resolved in less than 3 months. The most common outcome of these complaints was an explanation obtained from the provider.

“The fact that nearly 400 of these complaints in five months were resolved with an explanation from the provider highlights the importance of communication in healthcare,” Ms Cusack said. “At the root of many complaints we receive is miscommunication about treatment or related issues that can be resolved with a clear explanation.”

A relatively large increase was seen in complaints about general, or non-registered, providers. This refers to those not regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) such as massage therapists, counsellors, alternative therapists, speech pathologists and many more. The new legislation introduced a general code of conduct for this large and diverse grouping of health service providers.

There was a 500% increase in complaints about this category of provider, from 16 to 96, comparing the five-month reporting period from this year to the corresponding five months of last year under the OHSC.

“A major impetus behind the new legislation and creation of the HCC was to improve oversight of general providers,” Ms Cusack said. “As this has been a key point in our public engagements, it’s not surprising to see a large increase in this area.”

There were 7,197 calls to the HCC complaints and enquiries line in the five-month reporting period.

Ms Cusack said that as well as timely and effective complaint handling, building up the office’s investigations capabilities with new staff in that area had also been a priority during the first five months of operation.

“I’d like to acknowledge the huge amount of hard work, support and good will from everyone that’s helped make this such a positive start,” Ms Cusack said.

Hard copies of the HCC Annual Report 2017 can be requested via [email protected] or 1300 582 113.