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Health care complaints

You have the right to give feedback or make a complaint about any aspect of your health care, and to receive a prompt response. This applies whether you are treated in a public or private hospital or treatment centre, or if you see a practitioner in a private clinic. Complaints will be managed differently depending on the type of concern, and the state or territory you live in.

Importance of feedback

The safety of Australia’s health care system requires the active participation of health professionals, patients and carers. Your feedback allows you to be a part of improving health care by supporting what is being done well, highlighting what can be done better, and improving safety. You can provide feedback through:

Compliments – Everyone likes a compliment when a job is done well. Positive comments show health professionals that you value their service and standard of care.

Suggestions – General feedback allows minor problems or difficulties to be dealt with to make things smoother for patients. Often health professionals are so busy treating people that they may overlook practical issues that are easy to solve and can improve everyone’s experience of treatment.

Complaints – If health care services have not met your expectations, negative feedback is important. It can help services and health professionals identify and improve service gaps or problems in treatment, communication, processes and behaviour.

All health care facilities should have procedures for patients to provide feedback and complaints. Check with the cancer care coordinator, nursing unit manager or social worker. Some hospitals have a patient representative or patient advocate who looks after patient concerns. You can usually find their details on the hospital’s website.

Raising the issue may mean you get a different view of why something occurred, and talking about it may make you feel better. You can also ask a friend or a relative to raise an issue on your behalf.

If you have a problem with a particular person, it is often best to talk to them face-to-face or on the phone, as this makes it easier for the situation to be sorted out immediately. However, you may prefer to write a letter, for example, if you find it difficult to discuss your concerns with the person involved or feel the issue has been ignored after raising it in person. Remember that putting feedback in writing means you will have to wait for a response.

Health professionals are bound by a strict code of conduct to maintain confidentiality about any complaints you lodge.

If you feel unable to provide feedback or complain immediately, you can still raise your concerns at a later date. Keep in mind the complaints  organisation in your state or territory may not assess complaints after a certain time frame, and there are strict time limits for medical negligence complaints.

Steps for resolving a health care issue

  1. Identify the problem and what you would like to happen to resolve it.
  2. Talk to your specialist, a nurse or other health professional so they have the chance to resolve the issue immediately. A quick conversation may help to sort out a simple misunderstanding.
  3. If your complaint is about a particular person and you don’t want to talk to them directly – or you have spoken to them and the issue remains unresolved – speak to the cancer care coordinator, nursing unit manager or social worker at your hospital or treatment centre.
  4. If you’re not happy with the response from a health professional, or if you want to talk to someone neutral, contact the hospital’s independent
    patient representative, complaints officer or patient advocate.
  5. If you’re not satisfied with the patient representative’s investigation, contact the hospital’s quality assurance department or the clinical governance unit of your area health service. Smaller or private hospitals may not have a patient representative or quality assurance department – contact the nursing unit manager or general manager.
  6. If you’re still not happy with the outcome – or you don’t want to raise the issue with the health care facility – contact your state or territory health complaints organisation or the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. If you have a serious complaint that you want to take to a health complaints organisation, you may wish to obtain independent legal advice.

To make a formal complaint, you need to contact your state or territory health complaints organisation. It can be helpful to check if there are any time limits or other conditions you have to meet. Complaints should be in writing and can often be made by filling in an online form.

If you are unable to make the complaint yourself, then a relative, friend, guardian or health professional may be able to lodge the complaint on your behalf.

In most cases, you will be assigned a case officer, who may provide a copy of the complaint to the health care provider and ask them to give their version of events. Your case officer may also obtain your medical records or other relevant information from the health care provider, with your  consent.

Once the case officer has completed their assessment, the relevant state or territory ombudsman or commissioner will write to tell you how they will deal with your complaint. They may decide to refer it to mediation or conciliation, which is when the parties meet to try to agree to a resolution. Public health and safety issues are referred elsewhere within the ombudsman or commission’s office for formal investigation.

Serious cases against a health practitioner may result in prosecution, and some cases can be referred to a registration board or another organisation.  

Health complaints organisations

Australian Capital Territory – ACT Human Rights Commission (Health Services Commissioner) Ph: 02 6205 2222

New South Wales – Health Care Complaints Commission Ph: 1800 043 159

Northern Territory – Health and Community Services Complaints Commission Ph: 1800 004 474

Queensland – Office of the Health Ombudsman Ph: 133 646

South Australia – Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner Ph: 08 8226 8666 or 1800 232 007

Tasmania – Health Complaints Commissioner Tasmania Ph: 1800 001 170

Victoria – Health Complaints Commissioner Ph: 1300 582 113

Western Australia – Health and Disability Services Complaints Office Ph: 08 6551 7600 or 1800 813 583

To help protect the public’s safety, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and 15 National Boards regulate the health practitioners listed below. Health practitioners must meet certain standards before they can be registered and accredited with a National Board. This helps ensure that only trained and competent health professionals practise within these professions. 

AHPRA works together with the National Boards to investigate complaints about health practitioners. If you have concerns about the health, performance or conduct of a registered health practitioner, you can complain to AHPRA (

Registered health practitioners*

It is unlawful for a person to pretend to be a registered health practitioner. You can check that your health practitioner is registered here.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners
  • Chinese medicine practitioners
  • chiropractors
  • dental practitioners
  • medical practitioners (GPs and specialists)
  • nurses and midwives
  • occupational therapists
  • optometrists
  • osteopaths
  • paramedics
  • pharmacists
  • physiotherapists
  • podiatrists
  • psychologists
  • radiation practitioners

* Includes students enrolled in an approved program of study or undertaking clinical training placements.

Unregistered health practitioners

Allied and complementary health practitioners who are not legally required to be registered with a National Board are known as unregistered health practitioners or general health service providers. They may choose to join a professional association that sets education and practice standards, but membership is voluntary. In some states unregistered health practitioners are required to follow a Code of Conduct. If you have an issue with an unregistered practitioner, talk to them first. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, you can lodge a complaint with their professional association (if they are a member), or with a health complaints organisation.

Health professionals have a duty to treat patients with reasonable care and skill. If you receive an injury or suffer loss that was caused by inadequate treatment or care, you may be able to make a claim for compensation (medical negligence claim). Inadequate treatment may include failure to diagnose or treat promptly, failure to advise you of risks of procedures, or giving you the wrong medicine. Medical negligence claims about cancer diagnosis and care are uncommon.

In most states and territories, the time limit for lodging a complaint is generally three years from the date the injury occurred. Proving negligence can be difficult – you may have to attend court, and the process can be expensive. If you think you may have a claim, it’s important to obtain legal advice from a lawyer who specialises in medical negligence. To find a suitable lawyer, contact the Law Society in your state or territory

Featured resource

Cancer Care and Your Rights

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.

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