On 1 February 2017 a new Health Complaints Commissioner (?HCC') was established, abolishing the former Office of the Health Services Commissioner. The Act expands the powers of the HCC and importantly, brings under its umbrella the otherwise unregulated services provided by allied health or alternative health practitioners.
The new HCC Act introduces a Code of Conduct applicable to allied and alternative health practitioners and grants the HCC wide-ranging investigative and regulatory powers.
Expanded definition of a general health service provider
The definition of a general health service provider has been expanded to include any service or practitioner that claims to or engages in assessing, predicting, maintaining or improving a person's physical, mental or psychological health. This expanded definition captures practitioners who were not subject to the old Act, such as massage therapists, counsellors and homeopaths.
Code of Conduct
A new Code of Conduct has been introduced setting out the minimum standard to which general health service providers must adhere. While the new Code of Conduct does not apply to practitioners whose registration is regulated by Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), it does apply to registered practitioners operating outside their area of registration. An example of this is a General Practitioner who provides homeopathic or other alternative health treatments.
Expanded investigative powers
The HCC is empowered to enter and search premises and to order the production of certain documents. The HCC may conduct interviews, and may also call persons to give evidence at an investigation hearing before the Commissioner.
Significantly, the HCC now has an'own motion' power, entitling the HCC to investigate a matter in the absence of an official complaint.
Expanded regulatory powers
Public warning statement
Following or during an investigation the HCC may issue a public warning statement against a general health services provider. This would occur if the HCC reasonably believes the Code has been contravened and it is necessary to alert people to serious risks to their health, life, safety or welfare.
The HCC may also issue a public statement against a registered practitioner after an investigation has concluded. No such public statements have been made to date.
If you have concerns over the conduct of a medical professional, call (03) 9321 9988.