Tips for local complaints management

Health service providers are generally expected to have a complaints mechanism in place, outlining how complaints are welcomed, acknowledged, investigated and resolved. Having a clear process for managing complaints can make it easier to deal with any complaints that may arise. A clear process can also help complainants feel reassured that their concerns will be taken seriously.

When a complaint is submitted to the Commission we ask the complainant if they have attempted to raise their concerns directly with the provider in the first instance (if appropriate).

The Commission receives a significant number of complaints that do not raise concerns about risks to public health and safety, or indicate that care and treatment has departed from acceptable standards. Many of these complaints involve a misapprehension or misunderstanding that could have been resolved directly with the provider. In many cases complaints come to the Commission because the complainant has tried to raise their concerns locally and has not had a response, or feels unsatisfied with the response they have been given.

If a complainant approaches you directly to raise concerns, the following information may be a helpful reference.


  • Early – Acknowledge the complaint immediately and plan to address any concerns as early as possible. Complaints are often lodged with the Commission after a person has tried and failed to raise concerns directly with the provider. An early response indicates that you are taking the concerns seriously.
  • Check your reaction – It is natural to feel defensive when a complaint is made about you. However, a response that is defensive and dismissive of concerns is unlikely to lead to a successful resolution. Seek support or advice if you are feeling stressed.
  • Reassure the complainant – Bear in mind that the person making the complaint may have found it very distressing to do so. Let them know that you welcome feedback. Many complainants may worry that making a complaint will affect their ongoing care and treatment, so provide reassurance that this is not the case. Consider any cultural or language issues and whether translation services might be required to ensure clear communication.
  • Listen and acknowledge concerns – If you have decided to meet or talk over the phone, avoid interrupting with immediate explanations and let the complainant speak first. Ask questions to clarify their concerns and check you have properly understood by repeating back what has been said. Having a clearer insight into the complainant’s perspective will assist you in addressing concerns.
  • Address the key issues openly and honestly – if there has been an error, acknowledge it. Avoid the use of jargon, acronyms or technical language when explaining events and answering questions. Where accounts of events differ, provide clarification without dismissing the complainant’s point of view.
  • Be empathetic and apologise (if appropriate). The Clinical Excellence Commission has a Guide to Apologising and Saying Sorry which is a helpful resource for health practitioners.
  • Agree on any action to be taken. You may both agree that there is some action that could be taken to resolve concerns or to mitigate the risk of a similar event occurring in the future. Be clear what has been agreed to and when it will happen. Follow up on any agreed action in a timely manner.
  • If the complaint can’t be resolved locally – complaints can be complex and it might not always be possible to resolve concerns directly. Advise the complainant that the Commission, is an independent body, set up to manage complaints about health care in NSW and that they are welcome to raise their concerns with us.
Still need more information

If you would like to speak to someone at the Commission for more information before you lodge a written complaint you can contact the Inquiry Line during business hours, Monday to Friday from 9am – 5pm on 1800 043 159 or submit an online inquiry.

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All complaints must be made in writing and we aim to assess complaints within 60 days. Your complaint will be allocated to an assessment officer and we will write to you to explain the outcome of your complaint.

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