What does the Health and Disability Commissioner do?
The Health and Disability Commissioner is an independent agency
set up to:
- promote and protect the rights of consumers who use health and
- help resolve problems between consumers and providers of health
and disability services.
Are all health and disability services covered?
Yes. All health and disability services are covered.
This includes public and private services, paid and unpaid
services, hospitals, individuals such as general practitioners,
dentists, naturopaths and caregivers, and even people who care for
What rights are covered?
The Commissioner enforces a Code of Consumers' Rights (the
Code), which gives all consumers of health and disability services
- You should always be treated with respect.
- No one should discriminate against you, pressure you into
anything, or take advantage of you.
- Services should help you live a dignified, independent
- You should be treated with care and skill and receive well
- Service providers should listen to you and give you information
in a way you can understand and that makes you comfortable to ask
questions if you don't understand.
- You should have your condition explained to you, including
benefits, risks, alternatives and costs of treatment, and have any
questions answered honestly.
- You can make your own decisions and are free to change your
- You can have a support person with you at most times.
- All these rights apply if you are asked to take part in
research or teaching.
- Your right to make a complaint about services must be taken
What can I do if I think a health or disability service provider has not complied with my rights under the Code?
First, you should speak to the person who provided you with the
service. Explain what you think the problem is and how you would
like it to be put right. You can ask a family member or friend to
help you with this.
If you are not comfortable going directly to the provider, a
Health and Disability advocate may be able to help you. In order to
help resolve complaints, a free, independent advocacy service
is available throughout New Zealand. Advocates are trained to
help consumers resolve complaints with providers.
The advocate will listen to your complaint, give you information
about your rights, help you choose an option to settle your
complaint, and support you in deciding what course of action to
Do I have to pay for an advocate?
Advocates are free.
An independent Director of Advocacy contracts advocates for the
work they do for consumers. Advocates are on the side of the
What if my complaint doesn't get settled or I don't want to go through advocacy?
An advocate may report an unresolved complaint to the
You can also take your complaint directly to the Commissioner's
The Commissioner may consider it appropriate to refer a
complaint back to advocacy.
What will then happen to my complaint?
Senior members of the Commissioner's staff will carefully review
your complaint, and the Commissioner will decide the best way of
dealing with it.
This may include a referral to another appropriate body (eg, the
Ministry of Health), advocacy, investigation, or no action.
What happens if there is an investigation?
The Commissioner may decide to start a formal investigation into
If this happens, an investigation officer will be appointed to
your case. This person will contact all the parties involved to
gather the relevant information about your complaint.
Once all the necessary information has been gathered the
Commissioner may ask an expert in the area to review the
information and advise whether the services provided met expected
standards. The Commissioner will use this advice and the other
evidence to decide whether the rights in the Code have been
The Commissioner must act impartially - like a judge - and not
take sides. Depending on the provisional findings, you may be given
an opportunity to comment and to raise any further points relevant
to the investigation.
The Commissioner looks at all the information and then makes a
final decision. The final decision is a written report on the
You can view some of the Commissioner's reports here. Reports published
on the website have identifying features removed to protect the
privacy of the people involved.
Can I have legal representation throughout the investigation process?
If you wish you may seek representation from a lawyer during the
This would be at your own cost as there is no provision in the
legislation for the Commissioner to provide legal representation
However, legal representation is not necessary and is not sought
by the majority of complainants.
How long will the Commissioner take to investigate my complaint?
The length of time an investigation takes depends on the
complexity of the complaint, the number of parties involved, and
how long ago the events took place.
A simple investigation usually takes six to nine months; a
complex investigation can take eighteen months to two years. This
is to allow time for all involved to have their say and for all the
relevant information to be obtained.
What can happen after the final opinion is released?
Usually the final opinion makes some recommendations. The most
common recommendations for a provider who has not met the
obligations under the Code are:
- an apology
- a change in the way he or she does things
- changes to organisational policies to make it easier for
individual providers to meet the Code of Rights requirements.
The Commissioner also sends copies of the final opinion to
relevant professional groups or organisations so that they know
about the Commissioner's decision and can tell their members about
The Commissioner can ask the Ministry and the Minister of Health
to take steps to improve a service if an investigation reveals a
problem or if new rules are needed to protect consumers. The
identity of the parties is usually protected.
The Commissioner can also ask an independent prosecutor, the Director of Proceedings, to
decide whether the provider should be disciplined or taken to
This step is taken in only a small number of serious
Can I appeal the Commissioner's decision?
The Commissioner's opinion is final, so it cannot be
However, the Office of the Ombudsmen and the High Court can
review the way the complaint was investigated to ensure that
everyone has been treated fairly.
What happens if the Director of Proceedings decides to take action?
Providers will be told that the Director of Proceedings may take
a case against them. They will be given an opportunity to explain
their position, and your views will be sought.
The Director will then decide whether to take a case to the
Human Rights Review Tribunal and/or to the provider's disciplinary
body, or to take no further action.
If a case is taken, you will probably be called as a
What happens if the Director of Proceedings decides to take no action?
An individual is able to take his or her own case to the
Human Rights Review Tribunal.
Will I get compensation if my rights have been breached?
The Commissioner doesn't have any power to give you
The Commissioner may advise you to take your complaint to ACC,
to see whether you are entitled to compensation if you have
suffered personal injury following an accident or as a result of
treatment you have received.
The Human Rights Review Tribunal can also award compensation to
an "aggrieved person" in some circumstances.
Will I be able to get money from the provider through the Commissioner?
No. The Commissioner does not usually ask providers to pay
Occasionally, the Commissioner may recommend that a provider
refund some or all of the money a consumer has paid for services
that are found to be below expected standards.