THE NSW agency responsible for investigating health complaints has failed the Hunter, a long-time campaigner for patients’ rights says.
The Health Care Complaints Commission’s projection of a record 5185 complaints by the end of the year, along with a 20per cent reduction in referrals for disciplinary action or prosecution, showed it was not acting as the state’s health watchdog, Medical Error Action Group spokeswoman Lorraine Long said.
The number of complaints from the Hunter about health providers was rising in line with the overall complaint increase, but the number of complaints about the commission’s handling of complaints was also rising, Mrs Long said.
‘‘We’ve got this commission set up to do this job, but they’re not doing the job,’’ she said.
‘‘If my organisation can uncover serious failings within the system with no funding, and if we can run a group on the smell of an oily rag, I don’t understand why the commission can’t take action in a more timely fashion.’’
Mrs Long’s comments come after recent budget figures showing the commission was dealing with a 25per cent increase in complaints from 2011, when it was forced to make public that funding problems had significantly curbed the number and quality of investigations.
The comments also come after publicity about the case of neurosurgeon Suresh Nair, who was able to operate on patients at Nepean Hospital for five years despite complaints to the commission about his drug taking. Nair was banned from practising in 2010 after he was charged and later convicted of offences relating to the drug deaths of two sex workers.
In its 2012-13 report, the commission said the majority of complaints about medical practitioners were either discontinued (57.2per cent) or referred to the Medical Council of NSW (20.4per cent).
‘‘To manage the high work load while meeting the statutory requirement of assessing complaints within 60 days, the commission continued the practice of assessing complaints that contain sufficient information without making any further inquiries,’’ the annual report noted.
Complaints about doctors included competence, illegal practices, sexual misconduct and inappropriate disclosure of patient information.
Assistant Health Minister Jai Rowell said the commission budget had increased by $1.45million since 2010-11.