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Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
 

How are complaints and concerns managed?

There are a number of organisations responsible for looking into complaints or concerns about health practitioners or student. We want to help you identify the right organisation for you, so that your concern can be addressed as quickly as possible.

AHPRA is the right place to make a complaint if you are concerned a health practitioner is behaving in a way that could present a risk to you, to other patients or members of the public. This applies to all states and territories, except NSW and Qld.

Any person or organisation can make a complaint or raise a concern with AHPRA if they have concerns about a registered health practitioner or student. The National Law provides protection from civil, criminal and administrative liability for people who make a complaint or raise concerns in good faith with AHPRA.

An image with words associated with making a complaint such as concern, investigation, decision, safety, sharing, process, information and questions.

Further information

Expand the links below for more information on making a complaint or raising a concern with AHPRA about a registered health practitioner or student.

Below are some examples of complaints or concerns that AHPRA can consider. Contact us if you are not sure and we can help you get in touch with the right agency for your complaint.

Concerns that a practitioner is working or providing patient care in an unsafe way, such as:

  • serious or repeated mistakes in carrying out procedures, in diagnosis or in prescribing medications for a patient 
  • a failure to examine a patient properly or to respond reasonably to a patient’s needs 
  • serious concerns about the way in which a practitioner managed someone’s personal information 
  • serious concerns about the way a practitioner is prescribing medication
  • serious concerns about the practitioner’s ability to understand and communicate in English, or 
  • serious concerns about the practitioner’s skills, knowledge or judgement in their profession.

Concerns about the way a practitioner behaves, including:

  • a practitioner abusing their professional position, for example by engaging in an sexual or personal relationship with a patient or someone close to a patient 
  • inappropriate examinations of a patient 
  • acts of violence, sexual assault or indecency 
  • acts of fraud or dishonesty 
  • any serious criminal acts, or 
  • any other behaviour that is inconsistent with the practitioner being fit and proper to be a registered health practitioner.

Concerns that a practitioner has a health issue or impairment that might cause harm to a member of the public if it is not appropriately managed, including that a practitioner might have a problem with alcohol or drugs.

If you want an apology, an explanation or a review of the care or treatment a health practitioner provided to you, you should first contact the place where you received the care or contact a health complaints entity (HCE) in your state or territory.

Under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law), complaints or concerns are called ‘notifications’. They are called notifications in the law because you are ‘notifying’ AHPRA and the National Board about your complaint or concern.

We use the term ‘notifier’ for the person making the complaint or raising a concern about a registered health practitioner or student.

AHPRA and National Board’s only manage complaints or concerns about registered health practitioners or students, people pretending to be registered health practitioners or about people advertising regulated health services usually provided by registered health practitioners.

A registered health practitioner is someone who is registered to practise as one of the following:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners 
  • Chinese medicine practitioner (including acupuncturists, Chinese herbal medicine practitioners and Chinese herbal dispensers) 
  • chiropractors 
  • dental practitioners (including dentists, dental hygienists, dental prosthetists and dental therapists)
  • medical practitioners 
  • medical radiation practitioners (including diagnostic radiographers, radiation therapists and nuclear medicine technologists) 
  • nurses and midwives 
  • occupational therapists 
  • optometrists 
  • osteopaths 
  • pharmacists 
  • physiotherapists 
  • podiatrists 
  • psychologists

If you want to make a complaint or raise a concern about health practitioners not listed, or if your complaint is about a health service or a health service provider, your local health complaints entity may be able to help with your complaint.

AHPRA and the National Boards can take action that might affect a health practitioner’s registration if it is necessary to keep the public safe.

When AHPRA receives a complaint or concern, we look at whether or not the practitioner is practising appropriately and safely.

We present information about individual practitioners who might not be practising appropriately and safely to the National Board who registered the individual.

A National Board will take action to protect the public if it finds that a health practitioner’s:

  • behaviour is placing the public at risk
  • practise of their profession is unsafe, and/or
  • ability to make safe judgements about their patients or to provide care safely might be impaired because of the practitioner’s health.

If a National Board believes that it needs to take action to make sure the public is safe, it can:

  • take immediate action to restrict a health practitioner’s ability to practise if it believes this is necessary to protect the public 
  • caution a practitioner, which is a warning to a practitioner about their conduct or the way they practise 
  • impose conditions or accept an undertaking from a practitioner that requires the practitioner to do something or stop doing something, for example:
    • the practitioner must practise under supervision, or 
    • the practitioner must not prescribe certain types of medication.
  • refer a practitioner to a hearing by a panel that has the same powers as the National Board, as well as the ability to reprimand a practitioner. There are two different types of panels practitioners may be referred to: 
    • a performance and professional standards panel if the concerns relate to the practitioner’s performance and/or conduct, or 
    • a health panel if the concerns relate to the practitioner’s health. 
  • refer a practitioner to an independent tribunal, that has the power to reprimand, fine, suspend or cancel a practitioner’s registration.

AHPRA and the National Boards are responsible for making sure that only health practitioners who have the appropriate skills and qualifications to provide safe, ethical care are registered to practise, so we take every complaint or concern we receive seriously.

The fact that a complaint has been made or a concern has been raised does not automatically affect a practitioner’s ability to practise. A National Board will only take action to restrict a practitioner’s registration if it believes this is necessary to protect the public.

Would you like to make a complaint or raise a concern about a health service, or is your complaint something AHPRA is not able to help you with? For more information read I want to complain or raise a concern about a registered health practitioner or student.

AHPRA and the National Boards have a responsibility to protect the public. This means that we take all complaints or concerns received about health practitioners seriously and follow up on all information that suggests there could be a risk to the public.

When you make a complaint or raise a concern about a registered health practitioner or student, AHPRA and the National Boards will use that information to assess if there is a risk to the public.

Once you provide a name or any details that will identify the health practitioner, the National Law requires that AHPRA must assess your complaint. We will need to consider the matter even if you decide not to continue with the process or if you want to withdraw your complaint.

If you are unsure about making a complaint or raising your concerns, you can contact us and ask general questions about AHPRA or the complaints process. You can also find information in our Guide for notifiers and Guide for practitioners - Notifications in the National Scheme.

When making a complaint or raising a concern with AHPRA about a registered health practitioner or student, you can expect us to be:

  • Accessible
    You can contact us by telephone or via a web enquiry. If you need access to a translator or interpreter, we can make arrangements through the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National).

  • Informative
    We will listen to you and ask questions about your concerns. We will then give you information about the National Boards and AHPRA, the complaints process, your role and the role of the practitioner in that process. If we don’t think we are the right place to address your complaint or concerns, we will refer you to the correct health complaints entity or agency. 

  • Responsive
    We will acknowledge your complaint or concern, keep you updated during the process, tell you when the matter has finished and give you as much information as we can about the outcome.

    There are some situations when we may not be able to provide a lot of information, but we will always let you know when a matter has finished.

  • Independent
    We only act in the interests of the public. Our role is to identify risks and potential risks to the public and manage those risks in an impartial and transparent manner. We cannot advocate, or act in the interests of, either practitioners or people who make complaints. Our role in managing complaints is to act in the public interest.

You can find more information about our values, objectives and guiding principles in AHPRA’s Service Charter. You can also find information about our decision-making processes under our Regulatory Principles for the National Scheme.

We can understand and manage your complaint or concern more easily if you use clear and simple language.

The information below may help you in telling us about your complaint or concern:

  • provide us with as much information as you can, but try and stick to the main facts
  • consider writing down what happened, the sequence of events, chronology or relevant points before you contact us
  • provide any relevant documents or additional information that will help us or that we ask for
  • tell us what outcomes you might be seeking by making a complaint or raising a concern, and
  • even if you feel angry or frustrated, staying calm and focusing on the main issues will help you get your point across. 

We understand that telling us about your concerns can be stressful or upsetting. If you would like to talk to someone about the process, contact us on 1300 419 495 or please read our help and support information.

We respect your right to make a complaint or raise your concerns anonymously.

Remaining anonymous means that you do not provide any identifying information when you submit your complaint or concern to us (such as your name, address or contact details).

If you wish to remain anonymous you should be aware that an anonymous complaint can usually only be assessed on the information you provide when you contact AHPRA. If you remain anonymous, we will be unable to seek clarification or additional information from you. This means it might be difficult for us to assess your concerns or progress the matter. Also, we will not be able to advise you of any outcome or actions taken.

We respect your right to make a complaint and when you do we ask for your consent for AHPRA to share details (such as name and date of birth) with the practitioner. If you do not wish for you name to be given to the practitioner please let us know.

For full details of how AHPRA and the National Boards collect, hold, use and disclose personally identifiable information, you should see our Privacy Policy. We summarise some key points from the Policy below, but this is only provided as a general guide. To avoid any misunderstanding we recommend that you should always refer to the Privacy Policy.

Even though AHPRA and the Board will endeavour not to provide your details to the practitioner if you do not consent to this, the practitioner will be provided with information about your complaint and this might be enough information for the practitioner to be able to identify you.

We are also unable to guarantee absolute confidentiality as there are situations when we may be legally obliged to provide identifying information to the practitioner or another person. For example, if a complaint or concern about a practitioner was to be heard in front of a panel or tribunal, the practitioner must be provided with enough information about the complaint to enable them to respond to it. We may also be required by law to disclose information in certain circumstances.

When you make a complaint or raise a concern about a health practitioner or student, we gather information to assess whether there is a risk to the public. This information will help us determine whether regulatory action is needed to protect the public.

It is important that you know and understand your rights and our obligations if or when you consent to the collection, use or disclose of your personal information. The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) regulates AHPRA’s and the National Boards’ collection, use and disclosure of personal information. The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law), also imposes strict confidentiality obligations.

You can find more information about how AHPRA and the National Boards collect, hold, use and disclose personal information in the Privacy section of our website. The Privacy section includes our Privacy Policy, which explains: how you may access and seek correction of your personal or sensitive information held by AHPRA and the National Boards; how to complain to AHPRA about a breach of your privacy; and how your complaint will be dealt with.

Who needs to provide consent for the collection, use or disclosure of personal information?

If you want to make a complaint or raise a concern about a health practitioner or student, we will ask for your consent to use and share your information. Your consent is provided in writing by completing the notifications form.

Written consent is also required if you would like another person to act on your behalf and if the patient does not have the capacity to make decisions or the patient is deceased. This is because throughout the process we will provide the party acting on your behalf or on behalf of the patient with all relevant information related to the matter.

We will generally seek the personal information required directly from you. However, we may also be required to obtain information from other people or other agencies about you. This might include third party witness statements, government agencies such as Medicare or health services and hospitals.

How we use your personal information

To consider a complaint or concern

When you make a complaint and we receive consent to collect, use or disclose personal information, the ways we might undertake this can include (but are not limited to) collection directly from an individual or organisation either in person, by hard copy or electronic correspondence, over the telephone, and via the Internet.

Generally, we will inform the practitioner or student that a complaint or concern has been made about them and may disclose your personal info with the practitioner or student if you consent to this or it is required by law provide them with your personal information.

This is because the practitioner or student has the right to respond to the complaint or concerns raised and assists them to provide their response.

Examples of exceptions to informing the practitioner or student about the complaint or concern or providing your personal information may include where we believe it would:

  • prejudice an investigation
  • place a person’s safety at risk, or
  • place a person at risk of intimidation.

You can elect to remain anonymous or confidential when you make a complaint to us, but this may limit our ability to effectively investigate your concern, and there may be limitations on the information we can then provide to you. You can find more information under Anonymous complaints or concerns and Providing your name to the practitioner (above).

Using your information to improve the way we work

To improve the way we work and what we do, we may use your information in monitoring, reporting and training our staff. This might include asking you to participate in a survey or using statistical data already collected to improve process and procedure. An analysis of any statistical information may be published in our annual report, or in reports provided to our stakeholders.

When we use information in these ways, we remove any personal or identifiable information and ensure the careful control over security and confidentiality.

We receive a range of complaints and concerns about registered health practitioners that are related to their health, performance or conduct.

Your concerns could be about a practitioner being unable to meet the standard expected by their profession and the public because of the way they behave, the way they practise their profession or because of a physical or mental health impairment.

Common types of complaints we receive are about:

  • the clinical care or treatment provided to a patient 
  • the practitioner’s health or if they have a health impairment 
  • a practitioner engaging in a personal or sexual relationship with a patient 
  • the prescribing or dispensing of medications, including dose strength, amount or over-prescribing of addictive medications 
  • a practitioner possibly having broken the law 
  • the practitioner’s communication, including, someone being treated rudely, inappropriately or disrespectfully, or 
  • the practitioner’s record keeping.

Further information about the complaints and concerns we receive is published each year in our Annual Report.

 
 
 
 
Page reviewed 12/09/2016