Delays, perceptions of unfair policies form basis for complaints

frustrated stressed pharmacist employer employee upset angry

Health Ombudsman reports hundreds of complaints related to the handling of notifications about registered health practitioners

The National Health Practitioner Ombudsman received 595 complaints about the administrative actions of Ahpra and the National Boards in 2019-20, according to its newly released annual report.

This number is up two per cent from 2018–19. As in previous years, most complaints received in 2019–20 related to the handling of a notification about a registered health practitioner.

Concerns were mostly raised by the person who made the notification, rather than the health practitioner who was the subject of the notification. Health practitioners were more likely to contact the office about registration issues.

The majority of complaints (351, or 59%) were related to the handling of a notification, up from 305 in 2018-19 and 288 in 2017-18.

This was followed by 217 complaints (36%) about the handling of a registration matter, down from 233 in 2018-19, but up from 123 in 2017-18.

Six complaints (1%) were about handling of personal information or a breach of privacy, while four were about the handling of a Freedom of Information (FOI) matter. Five were about general health regulation concerns, and three complaints were about accreditation processes.

Common complaint themes were communication problems, delays in progressing matters and perceptions of unfair policies and procedures related to registration matters.

Others included allegations of Ahpra or the boards not considering all relevant information, providing inadequate reasons for decisions, and failing to respond to complaints.

The Ombudsman commenced 117 investigations in the 2019-20 financial year, and also finalised 131 complaints after investigations into Ahpra and the National Board.

According to the report, investigations generally resulted in three outcomes: providing a further explanation to the complainant; providing formal comments or suggestions for improvement to Ahpra; and assisting Ahpra to resolve the matter.

The Ombudsman’s primary role is to provide oversight of bodies in the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme including Ahpra and the 15 National Boards.

Ombudsman Richelle McCausland said her office continues to “strive for fair and positive change in the regulation of registered health practitioners for the Australian community”.

“This year we have collaborated with Ahpra and the National Boards to address gaps in policies and procedures, [and] improve communication, particularly regarding explanations for decisions or actions,” said Ms McCausland.

The annual report also mentions the results of the independent review of confidentiality safeguards for people making notifications about registered health practitioners.

Ahpra requested the review after the conviction of South Australian general practitioner Dr Brian Holder for the attempted murder of pharmacist Kelly Akehurst (covered by AJP here).

Ms Akehurst had made a notification to Ahpra about Dr Holder’s prescribing practices and it is thought that the notification was the motive for the crime.

The Ombudsman and Commissioner made 10 recommendations (covered by AJP here) which were all accepted by Ahpra.

Among these were improvements to communication about privacy and confidentiality for notifiers, and consequences for practitioners who harm, threaten, intimidate, harass or coerce notifiers.

Ahpra also released its annual report over the past week.

In 2019-20, Ahpra received 448 notifications about pharmacists, with the most common type of complaint (62.1%) related to medication (see AJP story here).

This financial year marks 10 years since Ahpra, the National Boards and the Ombudsman were established.

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