The Commission has the power to deal with and take action in relation to complaints about unregistered health practitioners, such as naturopaths or massage therapists.
What is an unregistered practitioner?
An unregistered practitioner is any health practitioner, who is not required to be registered under Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (NSW), or who provides services that are unrelated to their registration.
Legislative framework for dealing with complaints
The key features of legislation regarding complaints against unregistered health practitioners are:
- A code of conduct for unregistered health service providers.
- The Health Care Complaints Commission has the power to deal with and investigate complaints about an unregistered health service provider breaching the code of conduct.
- The Commission cantake action against unregistered health practitioners, including issuing prohibition orders.
- It is an offence for an unregistered health service provider to continue to provide a health service in breach of a prohibition order.
- It is an offence for health practitioner whose registration had been cancelled to provide health services in breach of an order of the relevant Tribunal or Council.
- Any health practitioner whose registration has been cancelled and who continues to offer a health service must inform clients about that cancellation before providing that health service.
Code of Conduct
A code of conduct for unregistered health practitioners came into effect on 1 August 2008. On 1 July 2010, the Code was amended and now also applies to the previously registered professions of optical dispensers and dental technicians. As of 1 September 2012, minor changes to the Code were made included in Schedule 3 of the Public Health Regulation. The code including the Notice to Display is available in poster format (A3) in English and 10 community languages.
The intention of the code is to set out the minimum practice and ethical standards with which unregistered health service providers are required to comply. The code of conduct informs consumers what they can expect from practitioners and the mechanisms by which they may complain about the conduct of, or services provided by, an unregistered health service provider. The key aspects of the code are that the health practitioner:
- must provide health services in safe and ethical manner
- if diagnosed with an infectious medical condition, must ensure that he or she practises in a manner that does not put clients at risk
- must not make claims to cure certain serious illnesses
- must adopt standard precautions for infection control
- must not dissuade clients from seeking or continuing with treatment by a registered medical practitioner and must accept the rights of their clients to make informed choices in relation to their health care
- must not practise under the influence or alcohol or drugs
- must not practise with certain physical or mental conditions
- must not financially exploit clients
- is required to have an adequate clinical basis for treatments
- must not misinform their clients
- must not engage in a sexual or improper personal relationship with a client
- must comply with relevant privacy laws
- must keep appropriate records
- must keep appropriate insurance
- must display code and other information (with some exceptions)
- must not sell or supply an optical appliance without proper authorisation.
Powers of the Commission
The Commission has the power to:
- issue an order prohibiting the person from providing health services for a period of time
- issue an order placing conditions on the provision of health services
- provide a warning to the public about the practitioner and his or her services.
To do so, the Commission must find that the provider has:
- breached the code of conduct; or
- been convicted of a relevant offence; and
- poses a risk to the health or safety of members of the public.
Stages in the complaints process
When dealing with complaints about unregistered health practitioners, the Commission must assess all complaints.
Where it appears that there is:
- a breach of the code of conduct, and
- a risk to public health or safety
the Commission refers the complaint for formal investigation. The purpose of an investigation is to obtain information so that the Commission can determine the most appropriate action (if any) to take.
Right to appeal
The practitioner has the right to appeal against the Commission’s decision. The appeal has to be made to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal within 28 days from the date of the Commission’s decision.
Communication with the health service provider
In dealing with a complaint against an unregistered health practitioner, the Commission is obliged to communicate with the practitioner during the handling of the complaint against them. The key steps where the Commission will usually communicate or notify a practitioner are:
- on receipt of the complaint
- after an assessment decision has been made
- in the closing stages of an investigation the Commission must notify the practitioner that the Commission is proposing to either:
- make comments to the practitioner
- to issue a public warning
- place conditions on the practitioner, or
- issue a prohibition order.
This allows the practitioner to make a submission in relation to the proposed action. After receipt of the practitioner’s submission, if the Commission decides to place conditions, or issue a public warning or prohibition order the Commission will provide the practitioner with a statement of this decision.
Communication with other parties
In addition to communicating with the practitioner, the Commission is obliged to notify an employer when it decides to investigate a practitioner.
Publishing the Commission’s decisions
The Commission publishes prohibition orders and public statements regarding unregistered practitioners on its website.