Conduct issues generally relate to behavioural acts or omissions and often go to the question of character. The conduct pathway allows councils to manage complaints that may constitute unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.
The Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) and us consult on the management of all complaints. Where it is agreed there are grounds for a complaint of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct, the matter is referred to the HCCC for investigation.
As part of the investigation, the HCCC may obtain statements from the practitioner, the complainant and other relevant parties. The HCCC also has the power to require any information, including by executing a search warrant or seizing medical records.
At the end of an investigation, the HCCC will give the practitioner an opportunity to respond to its findings.
What happens when we receive a complaint about conduct
Councils may manage less serious conduct complaints by directing a practitioner to attend a counselling meeting about their conduct.
Counselling is intended to:
- inform and remind practitioners about their professional responsibilities,
- assist practitioners in finding ways to enhance and improve their practice and
- provide insight into the ethical standards underpinning professional practice.
Counselling is not designed as a disciplinary measure, but rather as an educative process. The counselling interview is confidential, informal and largely advisory in nature.
If a council is satisfied with the outcome of the counselling interview, that will be the end of the matter. However, if during the course of the interview, further issues come to light that give rise to concern, or if a council are not satisfied with the outcome of the discussion, a council may raise a new complaint that will be handled through an alternative pathway.
Most councils may deal with more serious conduct complaints by conducting an inquiry at a meeting of the Council. If those make a finding of unsatisfactory professional conduct, they may do any one or more of the following in relation to the practitioner who is the subject of the inquiry:
- caution or reprimand the practitioner
- make an order for the withholding or refunding of part or all of the payment with respect to the fees charged or paid for the services that are the subject of the complaint
- direct that specified conditions relating to the practitioner's practice of the health profession be imposed on the practitioner's registration
- order that the practitioner seek and undergo medical or psychiatric treatment or counselling (including, but not limited to, psychological counselling)
- order that the practitioner complete an educational course specified by the Council
- order that the practitioner report on his or her practice at the times, in the way and to the persons specified by the Council
- order that the practitioner see and take advice, in relation to the management of his or her practice, from persons specified by the Council
Following consultation with the Council, the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) may refer its investigations to the Director of Proceedings to determine whether the complaint should be prosecuted before NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).
Professional Standards Committee
After the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) has completed an investigation of a matter. the HCCC’s Director of Proceedings may decide to make a complaint of unsatisfactory professional conduct about a practitioner. In the case of nursing, midwifery and medicine, these matters are referred to a Professional Standards Committee. The committee can consider a matter even if the practitioner is no longer registered.
The committee may consider matters where suspension or cancellation of a practitioner's registration is necessary. The committee may also issue cautions or reprimands. These powers are in addition to the powers of other panels which can impose conditions and orders on a nurse or midwife's registration. Where a complaint of professional misconduct is considered, the matter is referred to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal instead.