The HCC has received 7,425 complaints in its first year, since opening on 1 February 2017.
The inaugural Health Complaints Commissioner, Karen Cusack, said that represented a 65% increase on 4,490 complaints received by the former Office of the Health Services Commissioner in the previous year.
“Our major focus in the first year has been managing complaints effectively during this period of massive growth which, thanks to the more flexible and streamlined complaint handling processes we designed, has been carried out effectively,” she said.
In one year the office has provided complaints advice to 5,251 people, resolved 801 complaints with detailed explanations, 204 by obtaining health services, 199 with refunds or compensation, 100 with apologies, 50 by helping people access their health records and 49 by instigating a quality change.
“While not every complaint we receive is able to be resolved to the satisfaction of all involved, I’m proud of the positive outcomes we have achieved in so many cases as well as the important role we’ve played in supporting people to resolve complaints themselves,” she said.
Ms Cusack said the overall increase in complaints was not necessarily a cause for concern and put it down to greater awareness of the new office.
“We’ve put a lot of work into promoting our office and removing barriers to accessing the service with simple information, a user friendly online form and dedicated customer service team,” she said.
However, Ms Cusack did highlight some areas of concern over complaints involving private drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, cosmetic procedures, and sexual misconduct by massage therapists and other general health service providers.
A major change in the types of complaints received by the new office has been the increase in complaints regarding general, or non-registered, health service providers. This category includes all practitioners not regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), including counsellors, massage therapists, speech pathologists, alternative health practitioners and many more. The HCC has received 207 complaints about general health service providers, which can now be dealt with under the general code of conduct in the Health Complaints Act 2016.
“A major focus of our new legislation is to deal with unsafe or unethical behaviour in these previously-unregulated health professions, so it’s been good to see people raising their concerns in these areas and that we’ve been able to engage with these practitioners and resolve issues with them more effectively.”
Ms Cusack said the office had also built up its capacity for investigations in its first year and that a number of investigations were currently underway.
“Priorities in the year ahead include taking action as a result of investigations conducted, including prosecuting offences, improving our data systems, further refining our complaint handling process in response to user feedback and continuing to raise awareness of our service, especially among general health service providers and underrepresented elements of the Victorian public.”