Health complaint commissions in Australia: Time for a national approach to data collection

Merrilyn Walton, The University of Sydney
Jennifer Smith-Merry, The University of Sydney
Judith Healy, Australian National University
Fiona McDonald, Queensland University of Technology


Health complaint statistics are important for identifying problems and bringing about improvements to health care provided by health service providers and to the wider health care system. This paper overviews complaints handling by the eight Australian state and territory health complaint entities, based on an analysis of data from their annual reports. The analysis shows considerable variation between jurisdictions in the ways complaint data are defined, collected and recorded. Complaints from the public are an important accountability mechanism and open a window on service quality. The lack of a national approach leads to fragmentation of complaint data and a lost opportunity to use national data to assist policy development and identify the main areas causing consumers to complain. We need a national approach to complaints data collection in order to better respond to patients’ concerns.

Merrilyn Walton <> is Professor of Medical Education at The University of Sydney, where her research interests lie in the fields of patient safety, education and training of health professionals. She was formerly health complaints commissioner in the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). Jennifer Smith-Merry <> is Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences at The University of Sydney. Here her work focuses on policy and services in relation to both mental health and patient safety. Judith Healy <> is Adjunct Associate Professor with the Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) at the Australian National University. Her research focuses on regulation of the Australian health care system, particularly governance strategies to improve safety and quality. Fiona McDonald <> is Senior Lecturer in Law at Queensland University of Technology. Her research focuses on health governance, particularly the governance of health institutions and systems, health research, health professionals and patient safety.

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