Health practitioners: What do I do if I receive a notification from the OHO or AHPRA of a complaint made against me?
Health practitioners regularly deal with members of the public and as such are often subject to criticism and scrutiny.
Any person may make a complaint to the Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO) about a health practitioner in Australia. Such a complaint may be investigated by the OHO itself or be referred by the OHO to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) for investigation.
If the OHO makes a decision to investigate a complaint made about you, or refer that to AHPRA to investigate, an officer will usually contact you via email to advise you of that.
Often such a notification will come out of the blue receiving that can be a stressful and overwhelming experience.
We have compiled a useful list below of steps to take if you do receive such a notification from the OHO or AHPRA:
- Notify your professional indemnity insurer immediately.
Your professional indemnity insurance policy may respond to provide you with legal assistance if the OHO or AHPRA decide to investigate your professional conduct.
By notifying your professional indemnity insurer immediately of a complaint having been made against you, you will have the opportunity to access legal assistance if covered by the policy as quickly as possible to respond to the complaint. This will be important, as often investigations conducted by the OHO or AHPRA will require you to provide responses in short time frames.
Delaying notification of such a notice may impact your access to cover under your professional indemnity insurance policy, so you should always notify your insurer (usually via your broker) promptly once you receive notification of a complaint having been made.
- Compile your records that relate to the complaint so that you can pass those on to your professional indemnity lawyer.
In order to properly help you to respond to the complaint as part of the OHO or AHPRA investigation, it will be necessary for your lawyer to consider all factual documents relevant to the complaint.
This will likely include your client file, any correspondence you have had with the complainant and other relevant parties, or any other documents that may be relevant.
By compiling your records promptly, you can pass those on to your lawyers as soon as possible, to allow them to properly consider the matter and assist you to respond to the complaint.
- If you have the details of the complaint, start writing a draft response.
Responding to a complaint will usually involve you providing your side of the story, to explain why you acted in the way you did and to address errors or misunderstandings complained about.
It will be usual for your lawyers to ask you to write a detailed draft response to the complaint, in order to help them respond to that on your behalf.
If you have details of the complaint, you can get a head start on this process by preparing a detailed chronology of the relevant events which led up to the complaint and responding to the issues raised.
This document would be shared with your lawyer at first, but it is a worthwhile step in any event, as it will likely assist you to understand the reasons why the complaint was made, help you reflect on your conduct and interactions with the complainant, and allow you to consider where you might improve your professional practice if the same issues were to arise in the future.
Useful matters to include in your draft response are the following:
- your qualifications;
- the background circumstances of the complaint including your interaction with the complainant or patient subject of the complaint and the interactions that led to the complaint being made;
- a considered response to each issue raised in the complaint material and / or raised by the OHO or AHPRA; and
- any reflections about how you might act differently should similar circumstances arise in your practice in future.
- At Thynne + Macartney, we specialise in assisting health practitioners respond to investigations conducted by the OHO and AHPRA in relation to complaints made against them. Our professional indemnity team is one of Australia’s most established and experienced practices with successes in an extensive range of cases in Australia and overseas.
Morgan Healey is a lawyer within the Professional Indemnity group at Thynne + Macartney. Morgan chose to practice within the Professional Indemnity group because he has a passion for litigation and disciplinary law and enjoys the diversity of matters he encounters working within the professional indemnity field. Having now worked in the Professional Indemnity group for over two years, Morgan has assisted dozens of health practitioners to respond to complaints against them and investigations by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO) into their professional conduct.
Cameron Solley is a Partner of the Professional Indemnity group at Thynne & Macartney. He oversees the operations of the group and works closely with the team. For over a decade, Cameron has assisted allied health professionals, including psychologists, chiropractors, nurses, physiotherapists and acupuncturists, to respond to complaints made to the Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO) and investigated by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA). This involves not only preparing submissions responding to the complaints, but also attending with the allied health professionals when called to appear before their professional registration Board, as well as representing the professionals in the course of disciplinary hearings through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).