Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll: All in a day's work at the Office of the Health Ombudsman

16 May 2016

The Office of the Health Ombudsman Queensland (OHO), Queensland’s health services complaints agency, publishes an investigation register and a plethora of monthly, quarterly and annual reports.

OHO’s transparency reveals matters and/or claims involving a litany of inappropriate sexual dalliances and/or misconduct, questionable drug supplies and a smattering of what can only be described as the rock ‘n’ roll, including alleged inappropriate treatment, poor or unexpected surgical outcomes and medical facility faux pas.

The publicly available register provides a snapshot of those matters which have exceeded 12 months of investigation and include those that have been referred to OHO by Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the former Health Quality and Complaints Commission matters (as OHO’s predecessor). Whilst the OHO’s register emphasises that its day-to-day activities are not for the faint hearted, it demonstrates the sensitivity and complexity of the issues faced by OHO.

OHO’s periodic reports provide critical insight into complaint and enquiry numbers, their nature, the medical disciplines being scrutinised, decision turnaround times and outcomes, the demographics of those taking advantage of OHO’s services and ‘hotspot’ areas for complaints.

In the 6 months ending December 2015, OHO received approximately 4000 complaints, the bulk of which related to consumer health issues. Impressively, almost 55% of the enquires and complaints made to OHO in that 6 month period were assessed, a large proportion of which were processed within seven days, which OHO attributes to a spike in recruitment at the end of the 2014/2015 financial year.

OHO demonstrates consistency in local resolution rates which are generally 300 claims per quarter with 85% of those being wrapped up within a month. Of the matters that are not resolved, a small proportion proceed to conciliation with successful outcomes and the remainder either being referred to AHPRA for further action or for the more fortunate, no further action being taken.

Interestingly, females make up 60% of complainants and approximately a third of complainants are aged between 35 to 54 years. Unsurprisingly, the biggest hotspot for complaints goes to the State’s capital, Brisbane, followed by the Gold Coast and then generally an even distribution along the east coast, with only a small number emanating from central or western parts of the State.

The types of complaints which have featured in the last 6 months have remained consistent, with the most prominent issue being professional performance. Two other issues of note are communication/information and professional conduct, the majority of which arise in relation to general medical practice.

The high demand for OHO’s services is unlikely to waver since it is free and is the first port of call for all of Queensland’s health service complaints, whether they relate to public, private or not for profit organisations or registered and unregistered health practitioners. The ethos of OHO, ‘Listen. Respond. Resolve‘, in the lead up to its second anniversary, appears to be ringing true.

This article was written by Diane Usback, Senior Associate and Andrew Cheetham, Partner.

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