THE State’s health watchdog recorded a 25 per cent increase in the number of serious complaints about doctors and other health professionals in one year, a NSW parliamentary committee inquiry has found.
The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) received more serious complaints between July 2015 and the end of March 2016 than a comparable period a year earlier, took longer to finalise the complaints and prosecuted significantly more, said the Health Care Complaints Performance Report released on Thursday.
The HCCC expected all complaints to increase further, up from about 3900 in 2013/14 to an estimated 5900 in 2016, the report said.
Treatment in public hospitals and access to public hospitals were the two largest single areas of complaint, said Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, who is a member of the HCCC parliamentary committee.
Ms Washington and Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord said the performance report showed the funding of the body was not keeping pace with the sheer volume of complaints, and the NSW Government had a responsibility to reduce the number of patients dropping complaints due to the protracted nature of the complaints process.
A Hunter patient who lodged a serious complaint against a health specialist more than two years ago said the HCCC needed immediate and substantial resources to clear a backlog of cases.
But serious questions needed to be asked about the NSW Medical Council and its processes that allowed doctors who were the subject of serious investigations to continue working for extended periods until complaints were finalised, the Hunter patient said.
“If a football player does something that leaves another player injured that player is sidelined until the complaints process is finalised,” the Hunter patient said.
“That’s what needs to happen with doctors. It’s the NSW Medical Council, and not the HCCC, that’s responsible for sidelining doctors during investigations or after complaints. I believe the threshold on taking action against doctors after serious complaints are made is way too high, and is not in the best interests of the public.
“As it stands at the moment these complaints are taking a very long time to be investigated, and the doctors who are the subject of these serious complaints should be stood down and sufficient deterrents put in place so that people are protected.”
A former Newcastle University associate professor of gynaecology under investigation by the HCCC since 2014 over use of mesh devices in women’s prolapse surgery is promoting “vaginal ageing” laser procedures in Sydney nearly 20 years after he was suspended in America after findings of incompetence involving women’s pelvic laser surgery.
Dr Richard Reid is promoting the laser surgery while barred from performing major surgery after a failed NSW Medical Council attempt to suspend him.
Dr Reid was fined $10,000 by the Michigan Medical Board in 1998 and suspended for three months after complaints from three women, aged 23, 50 and 59, following laser surgery that “violated his duty to safely and skilfully practise medicine”.
One of the women, 23, received a $7.6 million compensation payout after an American court was told she could never have sex again because of permanent and severe damage caused by the Australian doctor.
The NSW Medical Board (which became the NSW Medical Council) did not become aware of the American board’s action against Dr Reid until 2006 after a complaint from an Australian patient, the Medical Council advised the Newcastle Herald in a statement.
The NSW Medical Council said it was “actively monitoring” Dr Reid after questions from the Newcastle Herald about the “vaginal ageing” promotions.
Dr Reid did not respond to questions.