A man who was unable to eat or talk due to “ill-fitting” dentures and a misread x-ray which led to reconstructive knee surgery are among hundreds of complaints made to Tasmania’s healthcare watchdog.
- Tasmania’s Health Complaints Commissioner received a total of 323 complaints in 2019-20
- The complaints ranged in nature from mistreatment in aged care facilities, ill-fitting dentures and a misread x-ray requiring reconstructive surgery
- Commissioner Richard Connock is seeking an urgent meeting with the Premier to discuss his concerns
The health complaints commissioner Richard Connock has outlined some of the cases in his annual report, and in it, also raises concerns about how the watchdog is resourced.
“Health service users are not always able to have their complaints and concerns dealt with and resolved in a timely manner,” Mr Connock wrote in the report.
In 2019-20, 323 complaints were made to the Tasmanian Office of the Health Complaints Commissioner (OHCC), mostly relating to inadequate care and treatment, failure to prescribe medication and poor communication.
Ill-fitting dentures and aged care concerns
One man, who complained about his “ill-fitting, uncomfortable and unsightly” dentures, received a full refund from his dental prosthetist after they were contacted by the OHCC.
Another complaint involved two children being given adult doses of vaccinations at a GP clinic — a result of “human error” between the general practitioner and the practice nurse.
The commissioner said the complaint highlighted the need for “tighter risk management” for administering vaccines.
There was also a case where a man presented to an emergency department with a dislocated knee and had a potential fracture ruled out by an x-ray, which was later found to have been misread.
The man complained to the OHCC that his recovery had been “unreasonably complicated”, and he was facing knee reconstruction surgery as a result of the dislocation.
The report said the hospital later developed a new protocol to ensure urgent follow up for patients with evidence of “hidden fractures”, as had been the case for this man.
In another “distressing” case, a doctor tried to insert a urinary catheter into a patient when the procedure had not been ordered by the specialist.
An investigation by the OHCC revealed there had been significant gaps in communications systems between hospital departments and the hospital/doctor and the patient — improvements have since been made.
Another complaint came from a woman concerned her mother was assaulted in a regional residential aged care home and did not receive appropriate trauma care.
The family of the woman were unable to visit her in the aged care facility as part of the strict COVID-19 measures in Tasmania.
The OHCC found the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) had begun its own investigation which had turned into a criminal matter.
A dentist whose conduct against an aged care resident appeared to be “predatory in a financial context” had conditions placed on his registration by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) after a complaint was made.
The dentist worked for an interstate health service that provided $35 dental examinations for a Tasmanian aged care facility where many residents don’t have decision-making capacity due to dementia and other illnesses.
The complaint said the dentist carried out a range of dental services on the resident without her guardian’s consent, and billed accordingly.
Commissioner to raise concerns with Premier
Most complaints were dealt with within 30 days but 42 took more than a year to resolve, the report showed.
The highest number of complaints related to Correctional Primary Health Services, with 150 complaints received — an 11 per cent increase on 2018-19.
Public hospitals ranked second on the complaint list at 43 in 2019-20, down 29 per cent on the previous year.
The commissioner has sought an urgent meeting with the Premier Peter Gutwein to discuss concerns.
In his report, he said there been “substantial delays” finalising complaints where compensation had been agreed to by the Tasmanian Health Service and the THS had to seek legal advice.
That meant legal action in some cases.
Mr Connock also raised concerns about significant delays in obtaining responses from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) who had to be consulted regarding all complaints received about registered practitioners.
“During this period we are required to wait until AHPRA makes a decision as to whether they seek referral of the matter,” Mr Connock said.
The commissioner did, however, acknowledge COVID-19 had brought additional challenges, including working remotely, the inability to speak or meet with people necessary to progress complaints as well as difficulties faced by health service providers through unprecedented times.
A Tasmanian Government spokesman said the Government had provided record funding for health.
The spokesman said the report also acknowledged the impact of COVID-19 on the Tasmanian Health Service and its staff members would have been enormous for the last four months of the reporting year 2019-20.
“The Health Complaints Commissioner is pleased to report that at the time of writing his report there had been a marked improvement,” the spokesman said.