Health Complaints Commission: 8702 complaints submitted in 2021

Of the thousands of complaints to the NSW health supervisory body in 2021, an unusual one related to Covid-19 emerged.

A surprising increase in complaints about the NSW health system has called into question the complaints commission’s ability to inform government policy about crucial failures within the system, particularly in remote and regional communities.

On Friday, NSW ministers forming the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) questioned committee chair Sue Dawson in connection with the 8702 complaints submitted to the commission in 2021.

Liberal MP Catherine Cusack drew attention to the parliamentary inquiry into the rural health report released earlier this month.

The report revealed that a high percentage of complaints of professional conduct were filed in regional and rural areas, but these findings were not reflected in the low volume of complaints received by the HCCC.

“The relationship was a blast,” Ms. Cusack said.

“I’m feeling, ‘My God, what’s going on in health that’s driving such a huge increase in complaints?’”

An important theme of the committee meeting on Friday was the low level of public awareness of the committee’s existence and functions.

Ms. Dawson said the agency’s outreach programs were focused on communities where awareness might be low and comfort in filing complaints was hampered by relationships with small towns.

Ms. Cusack elaborated on the need for critical data on health complaints to be disclosed to government organizations to allow them to gather details on the absence or difficulty of accessing services.

“This is the kind of capacity we’re working on and we’re going to get the best out of our data and be with people who are healthy,” Ms. Dawson said.

One complaint that has surfaced “over and over” has been the lack of awareness of local health services in these communities due to outdated websites.

The implication is that people might try to report a service out of fear that a provider might take it as a personal attack or that the service might be withdrawn.

653 complaints were presented to the commission in relation to Covid-19.

Problems with treatment emerged in only 40% of complaints, most of which were non-clinical in nature.

These complaints ranged from waiting times at test stations, to delays in receiving results, and concerns about the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by a healthcare professional.

Complaints filed in medical centers generally related to the limitation of face-to-face consultations, the way in which telemedicine appointments were billed, the PPE worn by staff and the availability of preferred vaccines.

The commission also noted several unusual complaints during the pandemic, including people complaining that they wanted to “stay at the Hilton and not the Four Seasons.”

Liberal Congressman Tim James brought the issue of health disinformation during the pandemic to the committee’s attention and asked Ms. Dawson what actions the committee was taking to address these risks.

“It’s difficult, it’s pervasive and it’s a national problem,” he said.

In relation to the Therapeutic Goods Association, he said the agency did not expect the disinformation problem to be disseminated via political brochures in Australian letterboxes.

“They never really contemplated the kind of misinformation about nature that was distributed in these brochures,” he said.

“I think it’s a regulatory issue that needs to be looked into.”

Another focus of the committee meeting was the low representation of complaints by First Nations people.

“We did not see in our complaints a proportion that we would have expected from First Nations people, knowing the difficulties they face in the health care system,” Ms. Dawson told the committee.

The commission has established the role of First Nations engagement advisor to guide the commission in engaging with First Nations people, including multiple outreach programs to remote communities.

There was also a surprisingly low rate of complaints presented in connection with cosmetic surgery procedures.

In 2021, only one cosmetic surgery facility was investigated.

Originally published as Health Complaints Commission: 8702 complaints submitted in 2021

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