When a complaint is made about a medical practitioner’s behaviour or conduct, it will be considered by the Health Care Complaints Commission and the Medical Council. The doctor will be asked to respond to the complaint and address the behaviour described in the complaint.
If the matter is likely to lead to the cancellation of a doctor’s registration, the Commission will take responsibility for investigating the complaint. When the complaint describes behaviour that is below expected professional standards but less likely to require that a doctor’s registration be cancelled, the Commission may refer it to the Medical Council Committee for further management.
The Committee will usually seek further information from the practitioner and, after consideration, it may take a number of actions. It may:
- decide to take no further action
- send the doctor a letter with advice
- direct the doctor to attend a Conduct interview or a Counselling interview
- refer the doctor to either the health or performance programs
- take urgent action to suspend or place conditions on the doctor’s registration so that the public is protected while the Committee considers what further action might be required
- refer the complaint to another organisation, including the national Medical Board
- refer the matter back to the Commission for investigation
- refer the matter to a disciplinary hearing in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal or by a Professional Standards Committee.
Disciplinary hearings and decisions
The Health Care Complaints Commission may prosecute matters before either the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal or a Professional Standards Committee. The Tribunal will usually hear more serious conduct matters such as criminal offences, serious professional boundary violations or serious matters of professional misconduct in prescribing. A Professional Standards Committee will hear matters of negligence, such as inappropriate care and treatment, or conduct which is below what could reasonably be expected of professional standards. Both the Tribunal and a Professional Standards Committee may reprimand and impose conditions on a practitioner’s registration.
Both the Tribunal and Professional Standards Committees are legally separate from and independent of the Medical Council. The Council provides administrative and technical support for the proceedings and implements any hearing decisions.
In cases where there is a perceived risk that the public needs protection while a complaint is investigated, the law allows the Council to take urgent interim action to suspend or place conditions on a practitioner’s or medical student’s registration. This action is temporary and any conditions or suspension will remain in place only until the Committee decides how best to manage the complaint.
Where to get help
If a doctor has had a complaint made about their conduct, they should seek advice from their medical indemnity insurer and other organisations which can support them.