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Complaints System Has Improved - NZMA

The system for dealing with complaints against medical practitioners has improved over the last few years, and there is no evidence that complaints are not being handled appropriately, says New Zealand Medical Association Chairman Dr John Adams. But, in the interests of both patients and doctors, it is important that complaints are dealt with fully and quickly.

He was responding to a report by David Collins QC that few cases were now being referred to the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

That report has not been made public, but the NZMA understands that Dr Collins' general comments on the medico-legal system were based on his investigation into one complaint only. That complaint is five years old, and many changes have been made to the complaints system since then.

"Doctors do not knowingly make mistakes," Dr Adams said, "Much more emphasis is now placed on educating doctors to improve their practice.

"Also, the Health and Disability Commissioner, who now receives complaints from consumers, emphasises complaints being resolved at a lower level and more quickly (instead of taking years). This works well for both consumers and doctors, without the expense of having lawyers involved.

"Doctors in New Zealand are already facing difficult working conditions. Many are choosing to leave this country to work overseas. Rather than a 'blame and shame' culture, it is more important to have a supportive environment, where all health professionals can discuss mistakes and learn how to improve.

Dr Adams said there were a number of reasons why the volume of complaints had increased over the past couple of years. One is because a handful of high profile cases means there is more public awareness of the system.

"To ensure natural justice, each complaint needs to be carefully investigated. It is not possible to predict, based purely on the volume of complaints, how many should be forwarded for disciplinary action," Dr Adams said.

In a July media release, Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson said: "Despite the increasing volume of complaints, there is no evidence that the quality of health care in New Zealand has deteriorated. People are simply more willing to complain."

ENDS


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