Healthcare Complaints Committee: 8702 complaints in 2021

A notable increase in complaints about the NSW health care system has questioned the Complaints Committee’s ability to inform government policy about critical system failures, particularly in remote and regional communities.

Healthcare Complaints Committee: 8702 complaints in 2021

NSW ministers who make up the Health Care Complaints Committee (HCCC) committee on Friday put questions to committee chair Sue Dawson regarding the 8,702 complaints submitted to the committee in 2021.

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

The report found that many professional conduct complaints were filed in regional and rural areas. Still, these results were not reflected in the low number of complaints received by the HCCC.

“The report was a bomb,” Ms. Cusack said.

“I hear: ‘My goodness, what is going on in health that causes such a large increase in complaints?'”

Camera icon Liberal MP Catherine Cusack questioned the committee’s ability to report major flaws in the state’s health system to the government. Richard Dobson Credit: News Corp Australia

A prominent theme of Friday’s committee meeting was low public awareness of the committee’s existence and functions.

Ms. Dawson said the agency’s outreach programs targeted communities where awareness may be low, and small-town relationships have hampered the ease of filing complaints.

Ms. Cusack emphasized that critical health complaint data should be disclosed to government organizations to collect details about the absence or difficulty of accessing services.

“That’s the capability we’re working on, and we’re going to make the most of our data and sit with the people in healthcare,” Ms. Dawson said.

One complaint “once again” was the lack of awareness of local health services in these communities due to poorly updated websites.

The implication is that people are hesitant to report a service for fear that a provider will take it as a personal attack or that the service could be withdrawn.

Six hundred fifty-three complaints were submitted to the commission related to Covid-19.

Treatment problems occurred in only 40 percent of the complaints, most of which were non-clinical.

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

Complaints about medical centers generally related to restrictions on face-to-face consultations, billing arrangements for telehealth appointments, PPE wore by staff and availability of preferred vaccines.

The committee also noted several unusual complaints during the pandemic, including individuals who “wanted to stay at the Hilton and not the Four Seasons.”

Liberal MP Tim James brought the issue of health disinformation during the pandemic to the committee. He asked Ms. Dawson what actions the committee took to address these risks.

“It’s difficult, ubiquitous, and a nationwide problem,” she said.

Speaking to the Therapeutic Goods Association, she said the agency did not expect disinformation to be spread through Australians’ letterboxes through political pamphlets.

Camera Icon A significantly low number of complaints were made to the commission by First Nations people. Brian Cassey Credit: News Corp Australia

“They never really thought about the kind of misinformation about the nature that it’s being spread in these pamphlets,” she said.

“I think that’s a regulatory issue that needs to be explored.”

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

“We didn’t see in our complaints a part that we expected from First Nations people, knowing the difficulties they experience in health care,” Ms. Dawson told the committee.

The commission established the role of First Nations engagement advisor to guide the commission in interacting with First Nations people, including more outreach programs for remote communities.

There were also remarkably few complaints about cosmetic procedures.

In 2021, only one cosmetic surgery facility was surveyed.

Lori J. Kile
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