The end of 2013 saw the release of the 2012/2013 Annual Report of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), as well as the release of the 2012/2013 Annual Report of Queensland’s Health Quality and Complaints Commission (HQCC).

AHPRA’s regime of national regulation commenced in 2010, and now covers 14 health professions across Australia. The report is detailed and includes commentary in respect of the activities of each board across each profession, and sets out more than 100 tables to show trends. Interestingly, out of a total of more than 5500 complaints across all professions (but excluding NSW):

  • 3000 had no further action (around half);
  • 1000 went to another health complaints entity to be dealt with;
  • 500 received cautions (9 percent);
  • 400 had undertakings/conditions (7 percent);
  • 26 were the subject of either registration cancellation, suspension, or surrender (.5 percent); and
  • 7 received fines.

The NSW data is reported separately but alongside the data for the other states, and to the extent comparison can be made, a somewhat different set of outcomes appears to emerge. Of almost 3000 complaints in NSW, more than 2000 (over two thirds) did not proceed, 115 had conditions imposed (4%), 3 received cautions (.01 %), and about 75 were deregistered, suspended or surrendered (2.5%). While more complaints did not proceed in NSW, there is a higher proportion of practitioners who have lost their registration status.

Over in Queensland, the past year was an eventful one for health complaints. The HQCC reported a 5% increase on the number of complaints handled compared to the previous year. The HQCC also deals with complaints about facilities, but in terms of practitioners, as with the national figures from AHPRA, the majority of complaints were about doctors. In 2013, the Queensland Medical Board was the subject of a show cause notice from the Minister for Health amid issues surrounding the timeliness and appropriateness of complaint investigation. After resignations and removal, the new members of the Queensland Medical Board were announced in January.

As we have previously reported, 2013 also saw the introduction of the Health Ombudsman Act 2013. 2014 sees the complaints process entering a new phase, with the Health Ombudsman set to be the single point of lodgement for health complaints in Queensland. The Queensland Health Ombudsman, Mr Leon Atkinson-MacEwen has now been appointed and the new complaints process is set to commence from mid-2014.

The timeliness of complaint handling under this new process is likely to be of great interest.