In 2019-2020 the number of complaints received by the Health Care Complaints Commission increased by 7.6%.
Complaints regarding medical practitioners made up 51.9% of the 5,131 complaints received and the number of complaints regarding medical practitioners increased by 12% on the previous year.
Of the total number of complaints, 457 concerned COVID-19 issues and 61.7% were regarding or involved medical practitioners.
Subject matter of complaints
The most commonly raised issue about medical practitioners were:
The most common outcome for complaints regarding medical practitioners was a discontinuation of the complaint after initial assessment.
The proportion of complaints that were discontinued with comments increased marginally, from 17.5% to 19.2%. Across all health professions, this result is most common in complaints regarding doctors.
The proportion of complaints referred to the Medical Council of NSW decreased from 15.6% (2018-19) to 13.1% (2019-20). However, the proportion of complaints referred to another body increased significantly from 3.2% (2018-19) to 4.9% (2019-20) (attributable to COVID-related complaints).
Whilst the vast majority of investigations (94.1%) related to individual registered practitioners, only 4.8% of complaints about medical practitioners were referred for investigation. This is notably lower than last year (6.6% in 2018-19). The HCCC noted that it is possible that the number of medical practitioners referred for investigation was less because of the impact of COVID-19-related delays in section 150 processes.
The proportion of pharmacist complaints investigated was four times higher than medical practitioners. The increase is attributed to the increasing attention to the management of highly addictive medications, the potential diversion of medications, and the risks associated with poor practices.
Whilst there was a decrease in the number and proportion of medical practitioners referred for investigation, the trend of individual practitioners being the subject of multiple investigations continued. Of the 187 individual registered practitioners referred for investigation in 2019-20, 124 (66.3%) generated two or more investigations. Of the investigations into registered practitioners, 7.8% resulted in no further action.
The most frequent outcome of an investigation of a complaint involving a registered practitioner is referral to the Director of Proceedings for a decision as to whether a disciplinary complaint should be prosecuted before a Tribunal or Council.
As noted above, 61.7% of COVID-related complaints were made regarding or involved medical practitioners.
Forty percent of those complaints were made about health organisations:
Approximately one third of the assessed COVID-19 related complaints were referred to another body – AHPRA (the most referrals), NSW Ministry of Health, the NSW Ombudsman, NSW Police, other government departments and the Federal Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Approximately 5% of the assessed COVID-related complaints were referred to a Professional Council.
Article contributed by Dominique Egan & Cassie Christopher