Health Complaints Bill 2016
25 February 2016
Ms RYAN (Euroa) — I am very pleased to have the opportunity to talk on the Health Complaints Bill 2016 this evening. I must admit that when I first saw the title of this bill, I thought that it would be a timely opportunity to raise the many health complaints of my own electorate — like Nagambie, which is still desperately waiting for an ambulance; Rushworth, where the Goulburn Valley campus at Rushworth hospital is in desperate need of an upgrade; and even Euroa, which has been fighting for publicly funded hospital beds to provide some equity there. But on further investigation of the actual purpose of the bill I discovered it was in fact to establish the health complaints commissioner and the Health Complaints Commissioner Advisory Council.
Victoria needs a health system in which complaints are dealt with fairly and dealt with in a manner that is responsive, flexible and accessible to the public.
The origins of this bill go back to 2012 when David Davis, the former health minister in the coalition government, established an inquiry which undertook a review of the Health Services (Conciliation and Review) Act 1987. He established an expert panel, which was chaired by Michael Gorton, and the purpose of the to strengthen and modernise the role of the Victorian health services commissioner and Victoria's health complaints system.
The wideranging, and the consultation process undertaken by the expert panel significant. A discussion paper was sent out to some 900 stakeholders. In the course of undertaking the review, the panel examined about 6000 pieces of correspondence from the commissioner and conducted a randomised survey of more than 400 complainants; they also received 352 submissions. It was quite an exhaustive process and established a very clear case for change around eight key themes.
The review found that the current complaints system is quite slow and prescriptive. Importantly, when we look at the survey conducted of people who had dealt with the office of the commissioner, we find that there was quite a big gap between the health service providers and the expectations, level of satisfaction and happiness of the complainants themselves with the outcome of the complaint system. From memory I think something like 70 per cent of health service providers were quite happy with their outcome, whereas only about 30 per cent of people who were complainants actually felt that they had had some resolution of their case, so there were very big gaps.
I have a quote from Beth Wilson, the former health services commissioner. Back in 2012, while still in that role, she said:
Overwhelmingly, people who come to us are not really wanting to blame, what they want is an explanation and, where appropriate, an apology.
That was certainly borne out by the survey that the review conducted with people who had dealt with the office. They found that, by and large, complainants had a quite good understanding of the commissioner's role, and their expectations were not unreasonable, but the legislative framework in which the commission was operating was not meeting those expectations.
It was in that context that in 2014 the coalition took those recommendations out of the expert review and introduced the Healthcare Quality Commissioner Bill 2014. I suppose the point I am making is that a lot of the hard work had already been done on this legislation. Whilst I understand the desire of members of the current government to undertake consultation to make sure that the legislation fits with their aims, I also think that it is a bit of a shame that members of the government have wasted 16 months on doing that when this bill is very much what the coalition introduced back in 2014. We could have seen this legislation in the house much earlier.
The review undertaken by the expert panel made legislative recommendations which, as I said, were reflected in the coalition's bill and also largely in the bill before the house, but they also made a number of recommendations around practice changes. It is important to note that because, whilst the government is obviously endeavouring to respond to the recommendations made around legislative change, a number of practice changes have also been recommended which need to be implemented.
Of the major provisions of this bill the first is that there is an explicit expectation that concerns from complainants be raised locally in the first instance with their healthcare provider. That is a very sensible decision. It is the clinical view of the members of the review that the earlier we can resolve an issue for someone making a complaint, the better the outcome for them. I think that that would be an experience reflected by many members in this house; we often have complaints made to us through our electorate offices. It is much easier to achieve someone's desired outcome if you communicate with them and make sure that that is a speedy process. Obviously a lack of communication often leads to unnecessary anxiety; however, that needs to be backed up with practice change. If we look at the recommendations made for practice change in this particular theme of the review, we find that the panel recommended that key performance indicators for complaint resolution in existing funding and reporting requirements should also be included.
While preparing to speak on this bill I tried to find Goulburn Valley Health's (GVH) record of complaints in its annual report. I had assumed that I would find it there or in GVH's quality-of-care report, but I could not find that record for the last few years, which I find a bit concerning. I would have thought that a major health service like GVH would take the time to inform its community and the public of the complaints it had received to demonstrate how it is following up on those complaints. To reiterate, it is important that the practice changes recommended by the review are also followed up on.
A second provision of this bill is that complaints can be made by anyone. I think that is an important change and is important of course particularly for carers. Of course complaints can be made about the treatment of carers as well. Obviously patients perhaps do not always have the ability to make complaints to the commissioner — perhaps they have disabilities — but it is important that their carers can do so on their behalf.
I want to mention the provision in the bill which allows the commissioner to publicly name health services that have not responded to or implemented the commissioner's recommendation. Again, that was a power Beth Wilson requested back in 2012 so as to be able to deal with those who prey on vulnerable people. Earlier in his speech the member for Ferntree Gully mentioned Belle Gibson, but there are many other cases like that, including the case of Peter de Angelis, who told people he was a Sioux Lakota Indian shaman called Thunder Eagle who could cure breast cancer. It is important that the health complaints commissioner has the ability to deal with people like that who are clearly leading vulnerable Victorians astray and giving them false hope.
That is certainly also the case for the recent reporting we have seen around gay conversion therapists, who I must say are totally abhorrent and must be exposed for what they truly are. Again I find it disappointing that the government has waited such a long time to bring in this legislation, because the original bill introduced by the coalition would have dealt with that issue and would have exposed it.