Frequently asked questions
FAQs for the public
What can I complain about?
You can make a complaint about any health service provider in Victoria. This includes public or private hospitals, community health services, registered providers such as doctors and dentists or non-registered providers such as counsellors and alternative therapists.
You can also make a complaint about how your health information is handled. You can complain about any organisation or individual with access to your health information, including schools, gyms and other non-health practitioners
Complaints we receive often relate to:
- unsatisfactory treatment
- admission or referral problems
- lack of respect or privacy
- negligent or unprofessional behaviour
- mishandled health information
- poor communication
What happens after I've made a complaint to the HCC
We will consider your complaint and the best way to resolve it. Typically, we will contact you to discuss your complaint and the issues you have raised. We will work with you to identify the key issues in your complaint and discuss the resolution process.
Some complaints can be resolved quickly over the phone. Others may need to be confirmed in writing. In more complex cases we may need to obtain copies of your medical records. What actions we take will depend on the nature and details of your complaint and the willingness of parties to participate in the process. The complaints resolution process may involve phone conversations, written communications such as letters and emails, meetings and/or a conciliation conference. We will keep you updated on the progress of your complaint.
If we cannot help you, we will let you know promptly – and we will explain why. We will advise you of any other options available for addressing your concerns.
If your complaint is about a registered practitioner, we must notify the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). AHPRA may request that we formally refer the complaint to them. In some circumstances, the HCC and AHPRA may deal with a complaint concurrently or the HCC may manage a complaint before or after it is addressed by AHPRA.
What can complaints achieve?
Depending on the details of the complaint, outcomes may include an explanation about what happened and why, an apology, access to treatment, access or amendment to health records, a refund or compensation or changes at the service to prevent the same issue occurring again.
Where complaint resolution is unsuccessful or inappropriate to resolve an issue, we may launch formal investigations and warn the public about dangerous health service providers.
Can someone else complain on my behalf?
Yes, but they should have your authority to do so.
Can I make an anonymous complaint?
Yes, but our ability to consider your issue will be limited and we cannot provide any updates on the progress of your complaint.
How long does it take to resolve complaints?
Some complaints are resolved quickly – sometimes within a day or two – via a couple of phone calls. More complex issues may involve meetings, evidence gathering and negotiations over several months. We will keep all parties informed of a complaint's progress and its expected resolution time.
I don't want to lodge a complaint but I would like some advice. Can you help?
Phone us on 1300 582 113 and we can discuss your situation. If you do not make a complaint to us, we cannot look into the issue further but we may suggest some options to help you resolve your concerns directly.
How should I let a provider know I'm unhappy with their services?
As the first step to resolving a complaint, we recommend complainants raise their concerns directly with the service provider. You may speak to the service provider yourself or, if you want a written response, you can also put your concerns in writing. Major health service providers such as hospitals employ dedicated patient liaison officers to manage any complaints they receive. Check your service provider's website for information about how you can provide feedback or lodge a complaint. You can also ask a service provider for information about their complaints process.
When providing feedback or making a complaint, make your comments specific and concise. If you plan to complain by phone, think about what you need to say before you pick up the phone. You might want to write notes to ensure you cover all your points, including:
- what went wrong
- how the problem affected you
- what would make things right for you
- how and when you would like a response.
If you are contacting the health service provider in writing, your complaint should include all the information above. If you would like your reply in writing, mention this in your letter.
Do I need a lawyer?
Nobody needs a lawyer for our process but if the Commissioner authorises it, a lawyer may represent you. You can also seek your own legal advice at any time. Any questions about our process or what to expect can be directed to HCC staff. All our staff work independently and impartially.
Health practitioners can also seek support in responding to complaints from a complaints manager at their service, or from a professional indemnity insurer, professional association or other support person.
What are the costs?
Our complaints process is free and can be an alternative to costly legal proceedings.
FAQs for providers
I am a health service provider, what will the HCC do if a complaint is made against me?
We are independent and impartial and we do not advocate on behalf of complainants. If we receive a complaint about you, we will tell you about the complaint and about the process we will follow in resolving it. We may ask you to respond to the complainant's issues in writing and we may ask you to provide copies of any relevant health records. In some cases, we may decide a meeting will be the most effective way to resolve a complaint.
When we ask you to provide information or documents we will give you reasonable time to respond.
If we decide to investigate, we will tell you quickly, and will provide you with details of the matter we are investigating. We will act expeditiously and with as little formality as reasonably possible. We are not bound by rules of evidence but are bound by the rules of natural justice and, before making a decision affecting a person, we must give that person an opportunity to make submissions on their own behalf.
As a service provider, how can I avoid complaints about me?
Many complaints arise from problems with communication. Keep consumers informed and up-to-date on anything that may affect their care or their health information. Check consumers have understood any explanations you provide. Check if they have any questions about the treatment or service you are providing or planning. Be prepared to spend time answering consumers' questions. If necessary, make a separate time to explain things in detail.
Complaints and feedback are an opportunity for you to better understand the experiences of the people you treat. If a consumer raises a concern, listen carefully. A quick, defensive reply is more likely to escalate things. Try to understand the consumer's issues as well as any feelings they are expressing. Clarify what the consumer wants. Be clear about what you can do and when you will do it.
What is the difference between the HCC and AHPRA?
AHPRA deals with the registration of individual health practitioners across Australia. It can accept complaints about individual registered practitioners but not about organisations such as hospitals or community health services. AHPRA can only take action against a health practitioner’s registration.
The HCC cannot take any action regarding registration but can achieve other outcomes. We can accept complaints about individual health practitioners, whether they are registered or non-registered. The HCC can also accept complaints about the handling of health information by organisations providing health services in Victoria, and by non-health service providers such as schools and gyms.
Both the HCC and AHPRA share relevant information and can jointly decide which agency is best placed to manage a complaint.
Why is there now a national Code of Conduct for non-registered healthcare providers?
The national Code of Conduct was agreed to by all state and territory Health Ministers in April of 2014 and is now law in Victoria. The code is important because it provides a minimum standard for all health practitioners who are not among the 14 health professions regulated under national law. So the code brings greater consistency to the standards of accountability for practitioners registered under the national law, such as doctors and dentists, and for non-registered practitioners, such as paramedics and counsellors.
The HCC can receive complaints about alleged breaches of the code, and can launch investigations and make interim or permanent prohibition orders. The HCC's function in relation to the Code of Conduct is consistent with other jurisdictions. Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia mutually recognise prohibition orders issued in each of these states.
What does the HCC do?
We are an independent and impartial office that helps resolve complaints about health services and the handling of health information in Victoria. We may also investigate matters where no complaint has been made, based on information we have received. The HCC can take action against unsafe or unethical healthcare providers.
Can I complain about the HCC?
Yes, we welcome your feedback. Any concerns should first be raised with the officer handling your matter.
If you're concerned about how we've handled your personal health information, you can complain to the Commissioner by writing to [email protected]. If the matter is not resolved you can make a complaint about the HCC for a breach of privacy under the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 to Victoria's Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC), GPO Box 5057, Melbourne 3001.
If you're concerned about our process and want to raise your concern with someone outside our office then you can complain to the Victorian Ombudsman Level 2, 570 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Vic 3000.