Responding to a complaint lodged with the Commission

The following guidelines are aimed to assist practitioners in dealing with complaints made about them and the health services they provided.

The reasons why people lodge a complaint with the Health Care Complaints Commission include:

  • they want an acknowledgement that something went wrong and an explanation of why
  • they want an apology for the distress they experienced
  • they do not want to see other people facing a similar problem
  • they want to improve the service for themselves or others in the future
  • they want someone to be blamed, punished or held accountable for what happened
  • they want compensation.

Be aware of your reaction to a complaint about you

It can be a distressing experience to receive a letter from the Commission with a formal complaint from a patient. You may experience a range of reactions, including:

  • Disappointment or anger that the person has taken their complaint to an external body rather than discussing it directly with you.
  • Surprise, because the person seemed to be satisfied at the time.
  • Frustration, because you have already spent time trying to resolve the complaint and now you are being asked again to deal with the matter.
  • Worry, because your actions may be criticised.
  • Defensiveness, because you think you were doing your best in good faith and in difficult circumstances.
  • Concern about the fact that the Commission or the registration body is involved.
  • Disagreement with the complainant’s account of what happened or the circumstances that led to the complaint being made.
  • Concern the complaint is not justified but has been taken seriously by the Commission.
  • Unsure of who to talk with about the complaint or what you should do.

Tips for responding to a complaint

When responding to a complaint, there are some basic steps to follow:

Be aware of differing views of what happened and what was said

  • Address all aspects
  • Try not to be defensive
  • Provide your perspective
  • Seek support

Address all aspects

Provide a full response that addresses the important issues and shows the complainant that the complaint has been taken seriously.

Acknowledge areas of disagreement or varying accounts without dismissing what the complainant has said.

Try not to be defensive

  • Acknowledge the distress of the complainant.
  • Acknowledge any errors that did occur and apologise, if appropriate.
  • Try to understand the situation from the complainant’s perspective; be sympathetic to their perception.
  • Avoid official or technical language, jargon and clichés.
  • Outline what happened, how it happened, what is being done to stop it happening again.

Provide your perspective

If a written complaint is lodged with the Health Care Complaints Commission, you will generally be notified about the complaint. You will receive a copy of the complaint and will be able to respond to the complaint before a decision is made about the action to be taken on the complaint.

Seek support

When you receive a complaint, you may wish to consult with your professional association, medical indemnity insurer, employer and/or a relevant senior person – supervisor, manager, consultant – while protecting the confidentiality of the complainant.

If you are employed in the Public Sector, you may wish to contact the Complaints Manager of your hospital or Local Health District.

Your confidentiality

The Commission notifies the complaint to the health care providers involved in the complaint. This may include the hospital or organisation you work for, if they were also named in the complaint.

The Commission may request medical record or other relevant information from the hospital or facility you work for to assist in its assessment of the complaint. This may make them aware of the complaint.

If the Commission decides to formally investigate the complaint, it will notify you and the relevant employer.

What happens next

Assessing the complaint

All complaints to the Commission must be assessed. Read more about how complaints are assessed and what the outcomes are.

Investigating the complaint

Complaints of a serious nature will be investigated. Read more about how complaints are investigated and what the outcomes are.

Prosecuting a complaint

If the complaint is referred to the Director of Proceedings, she will independently determine whether to prosecute it before a disciplinary body. Read more abut the prosecution of complaints and what the outcomes are.

More information

The Commission is an independent organisation. You can always contact us if you need more information.

For any questions relating to a current complaint against you or your health service, please contact the responsible Officer. You can find the contact details of your case officer on the top of any correspondence that is addressed to you. To be able to help you faster, please state the case number when contacting the Commission.