Complaint handling standards

Why complaints are important

Complaints help to improve the quality and safety of health services in Victoria. They are a vital form of feedback to all health service providers.

Complaint handling standards

These standards aim to strengthen and improve complaint handling systems across the Victorian health sector. They will provide a common benchmark that all health service providers will meet, offering consistency for consumers, complainants, health service providers and other stakeholders. Each standard includes guiding principles for implementation that aim to provide direction for the design of effective complaint handling processes in all health service providers. Health service providers should develop their own performance indicators to measure success. Some standards have performance indicators in them, for example within three working days, and others do not and will need to be developed by the health service provider.

These complaint handling standards complement existing standards, reinforcing the importance of consumer feedback and person-centred care in all health services.

These standards form part of, and have been developed in accordance with, sections 132 to 137 of the Health Complaints Act 2016 (the Act). The Act also provides that consumers can make a complaint to the Health Complaints Commissioner about the way a complaint is handled by a health service provider.

About the standards

Each standard includes guiding principles for implementation that aim to provide direction for the design of effective complaint handling processes in all health service providers. Health service providers should develop their own performance indicators to measure success. Some standards have performance indicators in them, for example within three working days, and others do not and will need to be developed by the health service provider.


A copy of the standards can be accessed here.

Complaint handling standards - published under the Order in Council, June 2020

Complaint handling is an important part of being a safe and responsive health service. Providers with effective complaint-handling processes often resolve complaints quickly and easily. This creates opportunities to restore confidence in your services, improve quality through feedback and to prevent minor issues from escalating into major problems.

Tips for good complaint handling

Handling complaints well means engaging with your consumers about their concerns and understanding the resolutions they are seeking. Communication issues underpin most complaints we receive, and most complainants are simply looking for an explanation or apology. Another common motivation behind complaints is to prevent the same thing happening to others. This is why acknowledging complaints promptly and letting people know what's been done to prevent it happening again is so important.

Consider these points when handling complaints:

  1. Your complaint process should be easy and straightforward.
  2. Complaints should be acknowledged promptly, and the complainant should be told how their complaint will be handled.
  3. Complaints should be triaged appropriately.
  4. Communication should be clear, using minimal jargon and technical terms. Make sure the complainant understands the information you are sharing.
  5. Treat your complainants fairly, and with objectivity and respect.
  6. Make sure your response to the complaint is clear and informative, and that it addresses the specific issues raised in the complaint.
  7. If the complainant is not satisfied with the response, you should provide information about any available internal or external review options.
  8. If the complaint highlights any systemic issues, these should be considered and acted on.

Our role in your complaint

If someone makes a complaint to us about your service, we will ask them to try resolving it with you first, where appropriate. If you cannot resolve it yourself, we may be able to help.

Our complaints resolution process is free, impartial and voluntary. It can also be an alternative to legal proceedings and neither party needs a lawyer.

We begin by helping both parties clarify the unresolved issues and possible outcomes. We then help to negotiate, where possible, a satisfactory outcome. We are impartial throughout this process and will not make judgements, or decisions, in favour of you or the complainant. See more on our complaint resolution process here.

Anyone with concerns about a health service that is being provided can make a complaint. This includes health service consumers and their friends and family members, health service staff and volunteers, concerned community members and professional organisations. If no health service is actually being provided to anyone, there may be little we can do.

Carers can also make complaints about how they have been treated in their caring role.

It is against the law to threaten or dismiss, discipline, disadvantage or subject anyone to any detriment for making or intending to make a complaint.

Training

We offer a range of free training sessions on complaint handling, health privacy and related topics.

Recommended text to publish on your health service website

If you are not satisfied with our service, please contact us. We take complaints seriously and aim to resolve them quickly and fairly.

If you remain dissatisfied with our response, you may contact the Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC). The HCC responds to complaints about health services and the handling of health information in Victoria. Their service is free, confidential and impartial. To lodge a complaint with the HCC:

Fill out a complaint form online at hcc.vic.gov.au or

Phone 1300 582 113 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday to discuss your complaint.

Posters and brochures

 

We know that having a complaint about your service can be distressing.

Research has shown higher rates of depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts for practitioners with complaints against them[1]. We aim to minimise this by dealing with complaints fairly and as quickly and informally as possible. But if you are experiencing any anxiety or distress about the process, support is available.

The officer handling your complaint is there to guide you through each step of the process and to address any concerns you may have. Their role is to remain independent and impartial at all times.

Support can also be sought through your medical indemnity provider, registration board, professional body or employer.

If you want some expert support from outside your profession, contact beyondblue online or by calling 1300 224 636 any time.

[1] T Bourne, et al - ‎2015 BMJ