What to do if you have a problem with a health or disability care provider, eg doctor, midwife, rest home, homeopath, counsellor.

If treatment has left you injured, or with ongoing complications, you may be able to get ACC support. Apply directly to ACC.

Supporting your recovery(external link) — ACC

Health or disability service providers, eg doctor, counsellor, osteopath, care worker, must respect your rights. These include treating you fairly and giving you information so you can make decisions about your support and care.

If you aren't happy with an experience with a health or disability service, follow these steps — you may not need to do all three.

  1. Try to sort it out yourself.
  2. Get support from the Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service.
  3. Complain to The Health and Disability Commissioner.

Many people feel happy to move on after talking it through with the health or disability service.

Who you can complain about

Anyone who provides a health or disability service can be held to account. You can make a complaint about:

  • a regulated service, eg doctor, dentist, physiotherapist
  • an unregulated service, eg aromatherapist, counsellor, reflexologist
  • a disability services, eg respite care or support worker in your home.

This might be be:

  • public or private
  • a person or organisation
  • voluntary or paid

1. Sorting it out yourself

It's a good idea to have family, whānau or someone else you trust with you — especially if you're feeling upset.

Before talking to your health or disability provider:

  • Know your rights — read our information below to see how the practitioner should have acted. It may help explain why you're upset.
  • Try to pinpoint why you aren't happy, eg "When the doctor was in a hurry and didn't tell me what things meant, I found it difficult to decide whether to have the treatment."
  • Think about what you would like done, eg "I'd like them to apologise and use language I understand, from now on ."

Your rights

When you use a health or disability service, you have the right to:

  • be treated with respect
  • be treated fairly
  • dignity and independence
  • receive good care and support that suits your needs
  • be told things in a way you understand
  • be told everything you need to know about your care and support
  • make choices about your care and support
  • have support
  • decide if you want to be part of training, teaching or research
  • make a complaint.

These are set out in the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights.

Talking to the provider

If you don't feel comfortable speaking to the person or people who treated you, take up your issue with the manager or complaints officer.

You might:

  • email or write a complaint letter
  • phone them
  • ask for a face-to-face (kanohi ki te kanohi) meeting.

The Health and Disability Advocacy Service website has tips on how to prepare and get across your point.

Self advocacy(external link) — Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service

Having someone you trust to support you can help.

Example — Cancelled ambulance

When he was told an ambulance would not come to get his elderly mother after a big fall, Haki was distressed. When he first called, the operator said an ambulance would be dispatched. But after a nurse called back and confirmed it wasn't an emergency, Haki was told one would not be sent after all. Haki asked a health and disability advocate to help him complain. They helped him communicate to the provider how worried he had felt. The provider acknowledged there had not been good communication. As a result they made changes to call-handler scripts and did extra staff training.

2. Health and Disability Advocacy Service

This is a free service, independent of:

  • health and disability service providers
  • government agencies.

How they can help

A Nationwide Health and Disability Service advocate can:

  • listen to your concerns
  • talk through your options
  • support you while you're resolving your issue.

They can't make a formal decision or order the health service to act. But they will help you get your point across and make sure you're heard. Advocates can work with you and your family and whānau.

Most people resolve their issue with an advocate's help. This can be as simple as the health service owning their actions and apologising.

Contact a health and disability advocate 0800 555 050.

Contact an advocate(external link) — Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service 

3. Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC)

You may need to go to HDC if:

  • the issue is very serious, eg malpractice or neglect
  • if you still feel the issue is unresolved after talking with the health or disability care provider.

The Commissioner does not represent one side over the other.

Their role is to:

  • give people using health and disability services a voice
  • hold health and disability services to account for improving their practices
  • stop similar things happening to other people.

They consider:

  • organisation or system-wide problems, eg a doctors or dental surgery, care home, ambulance service, hospital.
  • problems with individuals, eg a doctor, massage therapist, carer, nurse.

Health and Disability Commissioner(external link)

Who can complain

Anyone can complain to HDC about a health or disability service. This includes:

  • the person who received the care
  • a family member or friend
  • a health or disability service provider or other concerned person.

It's best to complain as soon after the event as you can. But it's still worth raising your concern, even if some time has passed.

If you complain for someone else: HDC may not be able to share certain details, unless you're named as allowed to receive that person's personal health information.

Complaints process

HDC will first decide if they need more information. This may be from:

  • the health or disability provider
  • you — they may ask a health and disability advocate to help
  • a clinical advisor.

If you and the provider may be able to sort it out: HDC will ask you and the health or disability service to work through the issue, before stepping in. They may suggest a health and disability advocate supports you. Sorting it out is often as simple as an apology and commitment to do things differently next time.

If another organisation is more suited to dealing with your issue: HDC may ask another agency, eg Ministry of Health, Medical Council NZ, to look at your complaint.

If HDC takes your complaint further: Based on the details of your case, the Commissioner will say whether your care met the standards in the Code of Rights. These rights (on this page) you can expect when you use any health or disability service.

In all three cases, the Commissioner will write to you to tell you their decision.

Possible outcomes

Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) might order the health care provider to:

  • apologise
  • review their systems
  • complete special training.

Organisations must report back to HDC to let them know what they have done in response.

If HDC questions an individual's competence, they may ask for it to be reviewed by the relevant body. For example, if they thought a midwife wasn't up to doing their job, they may ask the Midwifery Council of New Zealand to investigate.

Example — Hot glove burns baby

A clinician taking blood from a baby used a glove filled with boiling water to heat the infant's skin. The mother complained to HDC as it left a blister on the baby's arm. HDC found this practice is commonly used in New Zealand when taking blood. But the provider's internal review found the clinician who had taken the baby's blood had not followed standard procedure. The Deputy Commissioner told the provider to make all staff aware of the incident and remind them to follow the correct procedure to make sure the glove's temperature is safe. In its response to HDC, the provider said it would stop using the procedure as it could not guarantee it was safe for infants.

Example — Health record breach

Haki complained to HDC when a nurse read his records without legitimate reason while he was in hospital recovering from an operation. Because the complaint was about a privacy breach, HDC referred the issue to the Privacy Commissioner. Worried about their conduct, HDC also reported the nurse to the Nursing Council of New Zealand.