Handling complaints

Handling complaints well

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.

Complaint handling standards

All health service providers in Victoria must meet the minimum standards for complaint handling as laid out in Schedule 1 of the Health Complaints Act 2016. In summary, a health service must:

  • Promptly acknowledge complaints and make appropriate attempts to resolve them
  • Provide information on how to make a complaint to health service consumers in an accessible and understandable form
  • Inform those who have made a complaint of the complaint's progress and its outcome
  • Keep personal information collected in the course of a complaint in a confidential manner
  • Keep a record of all complaints, including any action taken in managing them.

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.

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.

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

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