Last updated 5 December 2022

When people are dissatisfied with their healthcare, it can have a profound emotional and physical impact on their lives. The healthcare system has a structured system for handling complaints, so people should be encouraged to pursue and resolve their complaints.

The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights sets out consumers’ rights in terms of healthcare, which includes the rights to:

  • access (accessing services and treatment that meet your needs)
  • safety (safe and high-quality health are in an environment where you feel safe)
  • respect (be treated with dignity and respect and have your culture, identity, beliefs and choices respected)
  • partnership (communicating and making decisions)
  • information (including assistance to help you understand health information if you need it)
  • privacy
  • feedback (give and receive feedback).

Making a complaint

In Queensland, all complaints about health practitioners should be made to the Office of the Health Ombudsman. The other important organisation is the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), which regulates 14 health professions with nationally consistent laws and supports the governing board of each profession.

The Health Ombudsman will manage the most serious complaints relating to the health, conduct and performance of health practitioners, and may refer other complaints to AHPRA and the national boards.

Where a complaint about the provision of health care also involves personal injuries that might eventuate in legal action, strict time limits apply to the notification of an intention to make a claim (see the Accidents and Injury chapter). If these time limits are not met, the complainant may lose the right to sue the practitioner.

Complaints to the Health Ombudsman

The Office of the Health Ombudsman can take a complaint about any health service provided by any health service provider anywhere in Queensland. Complaints should be made within two years of when the matter arose and the complainant became aware of the matter.

Complaints can be made about unregistered practitioners and about organisations such as hospitals.

The Health Ombudsman requires complainants to first seek a resolution with the health service provider (if it is reasonable in the circumstances).

More information about the complaints process can be found on the Health Ombudsman’s website. Complaints to the Health Ombudsman can be about any health service provided and could include:

  • diagnosis, treatment or care
  • sharing information without permission
  • inappropriate behaviour by a provider
  • the quality of the health service provided
  • how a provider has dealt with a complaint.

Anyone can make a complaint including:

  • a patient who received a health service
  • a parent or guardian of a patient
  • a relative, friend or representative chosen by the patient
  • a health service provider
  • any other concerned person.

The Health Ombudsman can decide what action to take in relation to a complaint. It can:

  • assess a complaint
  • facilitate local resolution of the complaint usually within 30 days
  • take immediate action to protect the safety of the public such as:
    • suspending or imposing conditions on a registered health practitioner
    • for other health practitioners, prohibiting or imposing restrictions on their practice
  • decide a complaint is more complex and refer it for further assessment usually within 30 days
  • investigate the complaint
  • refer the complaint for possible proceedings in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal
  • conciliate the complaint usually within six months
  • refer a complaint to AHPRA
  • conduct an inquiry.

The Health Ombudsman can decide to take no further action if:

  • the complaint lacks substance, is frivolous, vexatious, trivial or not made in good faith
  • the complainant fails to cooperate with the Health Ombudsman or provide information requested
  • it is more than two years since the matter arose and the complainant became aware of the matter.

If someone is unhappy with the decision of the Health Ombudsman, they can seek an external review with the Queensland Ombudsman.

Access to health records

Patients may seek access to their medical records. A patient does not have a right to know the contents of clinical notes made by a medical practitioner, but could negotiate for access to them. Patients have a level of ownership over X-rays they have paid for directly.