Complaints on the rise – The HCCC annual report

The Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) New South Wales is an independent body, established under the Health Care Complaints Act. The Commission functions as a means of receiving and assessing complaints relating to health service practitioners in NSW, and assisting or resolving these complaints. The HCCC also has the power to investigate and prosecute serious complaints which raise questions of public health and safety.

If you have previously made a complaint against a health practitioner, or are currently dealing with an unsatisfactory medical matter and are considering lodging a complaint, our team of Medical Negligence Lawyers may be able to assist you. Furthermore, if you have received medical treatment worthy of reporting to the HCCC, you may also have a right to bring a claim for compensation against the Medical Practitioner responsible. Once again, our team of Medical Negligence Lawyers may be able to assist you.

The HCCC has just released its annual report for 2015/16 – revealing a 16 % year-on-year increase in overall complaints assessed.

Of the 6,075 complaints received for the period, 76.9 % were resolved after referral to the Resolution Service. Levels of investigation and prosecution have continued to rise however, with 350 complaints referred for further investigation (up from 262 in 2014-15), whilst a further 139 complaints were referred for prosecution (up from 93 in 2014-15).

Successful prosecution rates remained high – of all matters that were heard and finalised before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) or a Professional Standards Committee, 97.2% were found proved.

The HCCC has sought to attribute the substantial rise in complaints to the following:

  • Many substandard practices and procedures in unlicensed facilities;
  • Infection control in dental surgeries;
  • Illegal prescribing and compounding by pharmacists; and
  • A small number of individual practitioners generating multiple investigations

Alarmingly, one unnamed health organisation was responsible for 23 complaints regarding its practices and health practitioners, equating to 6.6% of all complaints referred for the period.

One case study within the report has drawn particular ire – the plight of a woman who underwent a total of 6 months of unnecessary chemotherapy. Following her original removal of a cancerous tumour from her bowel, the patient’s surgeon was concerned about the possibility of tumours in the liver, and following a CT scan diagnosed stage 4 liver cancer. When referred to an oncologist, no further tests were conducted to confirm the diagnosis, and after 6 months of chemotherapy treatment, a review of the original CT scan revealed the presence of benign tumours, as opposed to stage 4 liver cancer.

The HCCC has also made particular emphasis of its desire to specifically accommodate for mental health complaints, an area that the Commission reports is undoubtedly on the rise. Ongoing plans to drive improvements with respect to mental health include:

  • A focussed and customised outreach;
  • More effective management of inquiries relating to mental health issues;
  • Staff training in working with mental health issues;
  • New partnerships; and
  • A continued focus on identifying and addressing any systems issues that may improve outcomes for those receiving mental health services.

While the annual report did not set out the HCCC’s goals for the coming year, it can be assumed that the Commission will be working feverishly to keep up with intensified levels of complaints, and the developing and ongoing complexities they bring.

If you have received medical treatment worthy of reporting to the HCCC, you may also have a right to bring a claim for compensation against the Medical Practitioner responsible. Our team of Medical Negligence Lawyers may be able to assist you.

The entirety of the report can be found here.