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Commissioner slams health sector's "disregard" for patient complaints

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South Australia’s Health Complaints Commissioner has issued a stern warning to providers which are refusing to hand over clinical notes and the names of practitioners during investigations, leading to months-long delays resolving patient complaints.

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Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner (HCSCC) Grant Davies said since his appointment in February 2018, public and private health providers had shown “disregard” to aggrieved patients by ignoring repeated requests from his office for information.

He said in the past year, there had been “many instances” where health providers were “unconcerned with timeframes” or “cavalier” about requests for clinical notes, policies, procedures and the names of health practitioners.

The Health and Community Services Complaints Commission is responsible for independently investigating public complaints about both government and non-government health providers, including medical and disability-related services.

It also oversees unregistered health care workers, such as social workers, but does not cover agencies funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme or those under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

In scathing remarks in his annual report, tabled in Parliament this month, Commissioner Davies wrote that many service providers had asked his office for multiple extensions and then not provided the requested information by the due date, ignored requests for updates, sought extensions after the due date or refused to provide the names of registered health practitioners.

“This type of behaviour cannot continue,” he wrote.

“We are authorised by the Parliament to perform an important function in the health and community services system.

“Engaging with my office in ways that are unconcerned with timeframes or cavalier about requests shows a disregard to complainants and consumers who have been aggrieved and interferes with the intent of the office and the role it plays.”

SA Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner Grant Davies. Photo: Meg Hansen/Supplied

Davies went on to state he understood that health providers were “incredibly busy and even more so as a result of the coronavirus pandemic”, but they had a “part to play in ensuring quality and safety in the health and community services systems”.

“I will be monitoring this particular issue very closely over the next 12 months,” he wrote.

Davies refused to name the health providers whose behaviour he deemed uncooperative.

“I would like to work with these sectors to address the issues in order to fix the problem,” he told InDaily.

“If the situation does not improve, I will consider making this information public in my next annual report.”

The Commission was unable to state how many times it encountered problems receiving information from service providers.

Davies said the providers’ unwillingness to hand over information delayed the resolution of complaints “sometimes for months”, as “the longer it takes to obtain information about a complaint, the harder that complaint becomes to resolve”.

The warning has prompted Health Minister Stephen Wade to urge public and private health providers to improve their communication with the Commission.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused our dedicated health providers to be busier than normal this year, it is important that appropriate information requested by the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner is provided as soon as possible,” he told InDaily.

Last year, the Health and Community Services Complaints Commission received 2112 health-related complaints or enquiries, the majority of which related to treatment (422), followed by access (282) and communication and information (194).

The complaints were evenly split between the public and private sectors.

Graph: SA Health and Community Services Complaints Commission Annual Report 2019-20

Graph: SA Health and Community Services Complaints Commission Annual Report 2019-20

Last year the Commission issued a prohibition order against the practice of Kambô, which involves using the poisonous skin secretion of a frog found in the Amazon Basin for cleansing rituals.

It also banned a health practitioner from distributing capsulated bitter sweet almonds following assertions they were effective in fighting cancer.

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