Complaints system shake-up a win for patient safety

16 April 2013
Medical law experts Maurice Blackburn Lawyers have today welcomed the announcement of a dedicated Health Ombudsman as a major step in improving patient safety in Queensland.

Sarah Atkinson, head of Maurice Blackburn's Queensland medical law department, said too many patients and families experienced frustrating delays when seeking to have medical complaints acted on by regulatory bodies.

"The medical complaints process in Queensland is in need of an overhaul and this announcement today is a welcome step in that process," Mrs Atkinson said.

"At the moment, it can be very difficult for patients and families to make medical complaints, and these often have to be chased up by patients themselves after long lag times.

"There is inconsistency in how complaints are dealt with across agencies, and disciplinary action is often inadequate in relation to serious findings made against practitioners.

"Patients and their families who make complaints in good faith about poor care should have confidence these are being acted on, but for too many that's not the reality - instead they are often forced to deal with multiple agencies over long periods of time.

"Disappointingly, these delays often mean that in some instances practitioners providing poor care continue working and potentially harming other patients before any action is taken.

"Frankly, having to wait six and a half years for a decision on a complaint is too long, and patients rightly expect a much more effective response when they raise concerns.

"There's been some great momentum in Queensland recently to drive improvement in this space, and a dedicated Health Ombudsman we hope will help to further ensure complaints are acted on and that poor care is stopped for the sake of patients and their families.

Mrs Atkinson said such measures were also important for the broader medical profession.

"A recent study found that over an 11 year period in Australia only three per cent of doctors actually accounted for around 50 per cent of medical complaints lodged.

"This confirms what we have known for some time - that the vast majority of doctors do an excellent job, but unfortunately there are still a small group providing poor care slipping through the cracks.

"Patients deserve to have confidence in health systems and the doctors who provide this care.

"Any measures that will allow authorities to act more effectively on complaints and targeting practitioners providing poor care to better protect patients is a good thing," she said.