Frequently asked questions

  • We recommend that, in the first instance, you talk to the provider you're unhappy with. If that doesn't resolve your complaint, you may like to contact an independent Health and Disability Advocate. Advocates support or guide consumers to resolve complaints directly with health and disability services providers.

    Resolving a complaint directly with the service provider may be particularly valuable when you will be having an ongoing relationship with that person or organisation.

    Under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights (the Code), providers are required to respond to complaints in a timely and appropriate way. If they don't fulfil this requirement, it can also be a cause for complaint. An advocate can help you with this, too, if it should happen.

    If the matter still isn't resolved, you can complain to the Health and Disability Commissioner. 

  • Complaints resolution staff will assess your complaint and contact you if they need any more details. You'll then receive a formal acknowledgement, including an idea of how long it will take to respond to your complaint.

    Your complaint is likely to be sent to your provider, to seek a response from him or her.

    Complaints staff will make recommendations to the Commissioner on handling the complaint. The Commissioner has various options. He may decide to:

    • Take no action — if it's clear that the provider has already responded appropriately, or for other reasons;

    • Take an educational approach, and ask for an apology or recommend action;

    • Formally refer the complaint to the provider, or to the independent Advocacy Service for formal mediation, for resolution between you and the provider (the outcome of these referrals will be reported back to HDC); or

    • Commence a formal investigation.

  • This is an impartial and independent process to which the rules of natural justice apply. It can take up to 18 months. Around 10 percent of complaints received by HDC are investigated formally.

    Before commencing an investigation, HDC will inform both the person who received the services being complained about, and the provider of the services, of the intention to investigate, and will advise the provider of the details of the complaint. HDC must also let the provider know of the right to submit a written response to the complaint.

  • The complaint file is assigned to an investigator, who must identify the facts to be proved (such as what happened, when, where, and so on). The investigator collates all the evidence and presents it to the Commissioner, or the Deputy Commissioner who has been delegated the investigation.

    During an investigation, HDC may consider oral evidence obtained during interviews with witnesses and parties, and documentary evidence such as correspondence, clinical notes, policy and practice manuals, and any other relevant evidence such as labelled medication containers.

    Where the quality of care is an issue, HDC will obtain independent expert advice from a peer of the provider with knowledge of, and experience in, the matters under investigation.

  • After an investigation, the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner forms an opinion on whether the provider has breached the Code, and notifies the parties of his or her findings.

    If the provisional finding is adverse to any provider, the provider will be given an opportunity to make a written submission; if provisionally the complaint is not upheld, the complainant will be given an opportunity to make a written submission.

    The Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner forms and reports his or her final opinion after consideration of any responses to the provisional report and any further expert advice that has been obtained.

  • While distribution of HDC's final opinion signifies the end of an investigation, the Act provides HDC with a range of options for using the report to promote change, both in respect of the conduct of individual providers and in the sector generally.

    Recommendations may be made to the provider, the appropriate authority (for example, a registration body), the Minister of Health, or any other person or organisation HDC thinks fit, including professional colleges, the Ministry of Health, District Health Boards, ACC, and consumer and provider groups. The report may also be published on the HDC website for educational purposes.

  • Recommendations to providers vary from case to case, but may include a written apology to the consumer; undertaking specific training; and implementing and reviewing systems to prevent further breaches of the Code.

    When any recommendations are made, HDC follows up to confirm that they have been implemented.

    Where an investigation suggests that there may be concerns about the competence of a registered health practitioner, HDC may recommend to the registration authority (for example, the Medical Council for a doctor) that it consider whether a review of the practitioner's competence is warranted.

    The Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner may refer the matter to the Director of Proceedings, to consider whether to bring disciplinary and/or other proceedings.

  • The Director's main options to address the matter are one or both of:

    • A claim before the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

    • Disciplinary proceedings before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

  • The Health and Disability Commissioner can look at matters only involving the provision of a health or disability service to a consumer.

    Matters relating to access to services and funding are outside the Commissioner’s jurisdiction.

    HDC cannot award compensation.

  • Anyone can make a complaint to HDC, orally or in writing. This includes not only consumers, but also their families and other support people, and other third parties such as concerned staff members in a health or disability service.

  • At any time, the Commissioner has the discretion to refer matters to another person or authority where he considers it in the public interest to do so.

    The Commissioner must refer matters to the appropriate person or authority (for example, the Director-General of Health) when an investigation has revealed a significant breach of duty or misconduct, and at any point during the complaint handling process when he has reason to believe that the practice of a health practitioner may pose a risk of harm to the public.