In 2012, an Expert Panel was appointed by the Victorian Government to complete a review of the Health Services (Conciliation and Review) Act 1987 (Vic) (Act). In its report, the Panel made a total of 69 recommendations for legislative and practice change.

As a result, one of the Bills introduced into the Victorian Parliament prior to Parliament being dissolved in the lead up to the November election, was the Healthcare Quality Commissioner Bill 2014 (Vic) (Bill), which is aimed at modernising the system for complaints about the provision of health care. 

If it is re-introduced in the next Parliament, this Bill will repeal the Health Services (Conciliation and Review) Act 1987 (Vic) (Act). 

Among other things, the Bill would establish the Healthcare Quality Commissioner (Commissioner), who would replace the current Health Services Commissioner, and also establish the Healthcare Quality Council (Council). 

The Panel’s recommendations covered eight themes which the Bill seeks to address:

  • promotion of local resolution;
  • expansion and clarification of the scope of the Act;
  • provision of effective and responsive complaints resolution;
  • improved support for complainants;
  • streamlined interface with other agencies and legislation;
  • safeguarding the public;
  • contributing to learning and quality improvement; and
  • enhanced accountability and transparency.

Current system for healthcare complaints in Victoria

The Health Services Commissioner’s office is currently responsible for handling complaints concerning healthcare in Victoria. The Bill’s second reading speech suggests that the current legislation fails to appropriately prioritise and facilitate contribution to healthcare. As a result, the Health Services Commissioner’s ability “to influence systemic quality improvement is limited.” 

The Expert Panel considered that the Act restricts the manner in which the Health Services Commissioner can use information in the public interest, which in turn hinders their capacity to learn from complaints in order to improve the system. The Bill grants more extensive powers to the new Commissioner.

Healthcare complaints under the Bill

According to the second reading speech, the Bill’s main objective is to provide a low cost, effective and swift alternative to costly and prolonged legal proceedings for those who make a complaint about healthcare. The core objective remains the voluntary and timely resolution of complaints.

The Bill charges the Commissioner and Council with “a greater quality focus” than the current Health Services Commissioner. The Commissioner will be responsible for ensuring the proper handling of complaints and the proper operation of the healthcare complaints scheme under the Bill.

The Bill emphasises the importance of complainants resolving complaints directly with the provider. This ‘local resolution’ of complaints will become the primary tier of the health complaints system.

The Council will perform an advisory role to the Commissioner, as well as providing accountability by monitoring the Commissioner’s performance. The Council will also report to the Minister for Health on the performance of the Commissioner. Council members will be appointed by the Minister and, unlike the current body, will not include sector representatives.