National registration of health professionals must deliver an independent and transparent complaints process

Consumer and advocacy groups warn that the proposed model for handling complaints about nationally-registered health professionals will be a backwards step for consumer protection.

While the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), the Council of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS) and CHOICE welcome the plan to establish a national system of registration of health professionals, they say the proposed model lacks independence, accountability and transparency.

There is significant concern that complaints will be overseen by professional registration boards with very little accountability or transparency. Public confidence can only be achieved if the complaints system is independent and free from any perceived bias in favour of health professionals.

PIAC Chief Executive Robin Banks said, ‘Having complaints heard by health professional boards is a move away from more consumer-focussed models that have been adopted in several states and territories in the past 30 years’.

‘We can’t have these complaints controlled and acted on entirely by health professional boards. The risks from professional groups policing themselves has been recognised in other professions and appropriate independent bodies established to remove any perception of bias’, Ms Banks added.

PIAC, NCOSS and CHOICE recently made submissions to the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council Consultation Paper entitled, Proposed arrangements for handling complaints and dealing with performance, health and conduct matters.

The consumer advocacy group CHOICE said one of the problems with the proposed arrangements is that they fail to adequately include consumers in the complaints process.

CHOICE health policy officer Michael Johnston said, ‘Any new model for handling complaints must balance the interests of consumers and health professionals. It must be easy for consumers to make a complaint and seek independent review if they’re not happy with the outcome. There also must be a balance of consumer and professional representatives on decision-making bodies’.

PIAC, NCOSS and CHOICE believe the new system should build on the best of existing systems and protect all Australians from health professionals who are not fit to practice. Instead, the proposed system will drag better states and territories like NSW and the ACT down to the lowest common denominator.

NCOSS spokesperson Alison Peters said, ‘Setting up national registration for health professionals is an opportunity to get the complaints system right. We will not accept a system which reduces protection for consumers in some states.’

To contact Alison Peters at NCOSS call 0425 231 814

To contact Michael Johnston at CHOICE call 0411 788 076

To contact Robin Banks at PIAC call 0423 100 807

MEDIA CONTACT: Dominic O’Grady, Media and Communications Officer,

Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Ph: 02 8898 6532 or 0400 110 169

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