Complaints about hospitals and Local Health Districts

Making Complaints

We understand that sometimes our members don’t receive the best treatment from Health Services and that Doctors and Nurses can and do discriminate. If you feel you have been treated unfairly and wish to make a complaint, most Health services or Hospitals have Feedback, Complaint or Grievances Procedures that you can use to ensure your complaint is heard and addressed.

You might think why should I bother no one will listen but  it is important for you to tell  health services about how you were treated or else they will continue to discriminate and treat people unfairly.

You can contact the independent Health Care Complaints Commission HCCC but they won’t investigate your complaint until you have tried to resolve the issue with the Health Service or Hospital directly. There are many different ways you can raise your complaint or concerns about your treatment. You can speak to someone directly, by telephone or write a letter. The HCCC website has some information and tips on resolving your complaint directly with the service you wish to complain about.

If you intend to speak to someone in person you can ask to speak to a manager or supervisor or Director of Nursing. It can be upsetting to discuss what has happened to you but try to keep calm. You will be more effective if you stay calm and clear about what your complaint and what you would like to happen to address it.

If you speak to someone in person or by phone it’s a good idea to keep a record in a diary or notebook of the time and date of your discussions, the name and title of the person you spoke to, what you discussed, and the outcomes of the discussion, and what, if any, agreement was reached about your complaint or if they are going to investigate the incident and when you can expect to hear back from them.

If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your complaint with the manager or the people directly involved, you can contact the hospital’s designated complaints officer. Most hospitals have a Complaints Officer or if your complaint involves a non hospital-based health service or if you are not satisfied with how a complaint has been managed, you can put your concern in writing to the Director of Clinical Governance of your Local Health District. You can find what how to contact your local health district through the Ministry of Health’s website.

What can the Hospital Complaints Officer do?

The Hospital Complaints Officer will help you identify the main concerns you have regarding your treatment. If you are in hospital they can assist you with any specific needs you might have during your hospital stay. They will be able to answer any questions you might have about hospital policies and procedures. They can ensure any complaint you make is taken seriously and treated confidentially. They can also ensure that you are kept informed about the process and the outcome of your complaint.

How can I make a complaint to the Director of Clinical Governance of my Local Health District?

If complaint involves a non hospital-based health service you can make a complaint to the Director of Clinical Governance of your Local Health District. Your complaint needs to be in writing. The Ministry of Health website has some tips on writing complaint letters.

Writing a complaint letter is a good way to help you to think calmly about what happened and it’s a good way to get your complaint down in a clear and concise manner. Remember, if you start your letter with “Dear Dick Head” and end with “Sincerely Going to Kick Your Head in” you may not get the attention you want. If you try and answer these four  questions it will help you keep on track.

  1. What happened?
  2. Who was involved?
  3. Why are you making this complaint?
  4. What do you want the Service to do?

What happened?

Your probably feeling pretty frustrated. It’s tempting to spill all your frustration out onto the page, if you do this you are actually making it harder to get your complaint heard as the person reading your complaint works for the service and may have some loyalty to the service you  don’t want them becoming defensive. One good way to ensure that your letter avoids blame is to stick to the facts. A good way is to express them as they happened to you, for example; I overheard the nurse discussing my HCV status with other staff breeching my confidentiality for no obvious reason.

Who was involved?

Again remember the person you are complaining to works for the service and may feel loyalty to the service. If you start by saying “Nurse Ratchet told everyone in Accident and Emergency my HCV status” again you may not get the answer you want. Try and be fair in your description of staff involved.  If you are complaining about something that someone said to you or you over heard, write the exact words that they said, as best as you can remember.

Why are you making this complaint?

Explain why you feel making a complaint is important. For example “I feel it is important to raise this issue with you because it is important that Hospitals such as yours monitor staff’s biases and personal attitudes, so that their behaviour does not have a negative impact on people like me with HCV accessing your services.”

What do you want the Service to do?

Explain how you feel the issue could be resolved but don’t demand. If you make a demand you are putting the service in a difficult position by not giving them an opportunity to negotiate a settlement with you. By not making a demand you are letting the service know you are willing to negotiate a settlement with them. You can make a broad statement like “My privacy and choice on disclosure have been taken away from me by your staff and I feel that you need to put measures in place that stop this from happening to other service users. I am happy to discuss how this could be achieved with you”.

What happens if you don’t get a response?

Once you have tried to resolve your complaint directly without success you can then approach the Health Care Complaints Commission, HCCC.  HCCC is an independent body that will investigate and prosecute complaints about health care services. See the next page for more information.

Map of NSW LHDs

More information about your rights and responsibilities