The new Health Complaints Act 2016 (Vic) (Act) recently passed by the Victorian Parliament will come into effect on 1 February 2017.

The Act provides for a new framework in respect of health services complaints in Victoria and repeals the Health Services (Conciliation and Review) Act 1987 (Vic).

The Act also establishes a new watchdog, the Health Complaints Commissioner (Commissioner), who will replace the existing Health Services Commissioner. The Commissioner will be empowered to receive and resolve health service complaints, contribute to health service quality improvements, and take both investigative and punitive action to protect the health and safety of members of the public.

The key features of the Act include:

  • the establishment of a new complaints scheme;
  • new processes, powers, and safeguards for the conduct of investigations by the Commissioner into complaints about health service providers;
  • the establishment of a general code of conduct that applies in respect of previously unregulated "general health service providers", which means that support services will now also be regulated by the Commissioner; and
  • new Commissioner powers for the making of public health warning statements, general health service warning statements, and both interim and permanent prohibition orders.

Jane Fiske, partner in Lander & Rogers' Insurance Law & Litigation group, explains, "Health service providers need to be aware of the Act and the impact that it may have on their practice. It will be interesting to see how the Commissioner's broader powers are exercised, and how the Act impacts unregistered "general health service providers" — we will continue to watch this space."